Listen to this track by hard rock prog trio hailing from Willowdale Ontario of all places (just north of Toronto for you out of towners …) Rush. It’s “Red Barchetta”, a cut off of their 1981 landmark album Moving Pictures. That album kicked off the decade for them as a new-wave influenced, although still rock-oriented unit and with this song being a stalwart fan favourite and live number, often introduced as “a song about a car”, which it is. But, there’s more to it than that.
This song is set an era when the ominous “Motor Law” makes muscle cars and Italian sports cars illegal, enforced by gleaming alloy air cars roving the roads in search of joy-riding perpetrators. The intricacies of this aren’t really outlined, and it probably doesn’t matter. If you were a teenager in 1981, you’ll know why. How many muscle car-driving Rush fans were there at that time? Too numerous to count. For all of the time-shifting math rock and seamless and staggering musicianship for which the band is known, they knew their audience.
Listen to this track by former Charterhouse school graduates and British progressive rock architects Genesis. It’s “Supper’s Ready”, the seven movement suite and final song from their classic 1972 album Foxtrot.
By the time of this record, the classic line-up that included new drummer and vocalist Phil Collins, and recent recruit Steve Hackett on guitars had already put their first effort together; 1971’s Nursery Cryme. Empowered by their new level of musicianship, that record came complete with longer, seamless pieces, capturing a uniquely English sensibility with a bizarre sense of humour and high potential for the theatrical at the heart of it. And those ideas for longer, more ambitious statements continued in earnest by the next year on Foxtrot.
And “Supper’s Ready” would surpass all of the longer form pieces they’d done to date, in many ways being the culmination of all of the longer pieces they’d done from 1970’s pastoral and atmospheric “Stagnation”, to the vividly disturbing themes found in 1971’s “The Musical Box”. It would hook into some big, sweeping mythological motifs using even more vivid and florid imagery. But unlike their earlier work along the same lines, it would touch on a very personal, and very human set of themes that lies underneath its Biblical scale.
Listen to this track by primo-prog pioneers and art rock template setters King Crimson. It’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, the title track from their 1969 debut record In The Court of the Crimson King. That record set the standard of approach to expansive musical ambition when it came to making rock records, later to be recognized as one of the primary albums that “built prog rock”.
Indeed, this band established the idea of creating artistic statements in the rock vein while avoiding established American R&B influences, and turning to classical and other European ingredients instead. Rather than coming from the gospel churches of the American south, this music is more aligned with the liturgical grandness of the Church of England. This record is where it all began where prog rock is concerned.
This was the first incarnation of the band; Robert Fripp on guitar, Greg Lake singing and playing bass, Michael Giles on drums and percussion, and Ian McDonald on multiple instruments, including the mellotron. It’s this last texture which is so important on this song, giving it an eerily orchestral, and portentous atmosphere.
I think it serves not only as an aural element that would go on to define a genre. But, it also serves the narrative as written by lyricist Pete Sinfield, which is one that matches the mythical with the political.
In the light of that, who is the Crimson King anyway?
Here’s a clip of British post-rock instrumentalist four piece. It’s their track “666…6”, a feature off of their most recent EP, On VHS, the first release to feature the four-sided version of the band; Matt Stevens (guitar), Stuart Marshall (drums), Kev Feazey (bass), and newcomer (but, old friend) Steven Cleaton on second guitar, keyboards, and “fx”.
The track reveals the range of influences, particularly those of guitarist Matt Stevens, with this track, and others, originally intended for his next solo record. Radiohead, Mogwai, Robert Fripp, and Celtic Frost (and others besides) all make up the band’s approach, marrying melodic, ambient, and hard-edged facets of progressive instrumental rock music that is gaining attention in prog circles, and beyond. These efforts were helped along by the recent Fierce & The Dead record If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe. This EP is a chaser to that record, turning up the intensity.
As a solo artist, and as a part of the band, Stevens has been a major proponent in putting his music across via a dedicated online fanbase, as well as generating a following offline as well, particularly in the last year when the band have been especially active as a live act. This video was created with a YouTube audience primarily in mind, featuring some pretty odd imagery that also helps to highlight the dynamism of each player.
This track in particular demonstrates how much varied textures are important to the band, with thundering riffs set next to more delicate fingerpicking, atmospheric electronic flourishes, crisp and dextrous drumming, and bald and brawny bass lines each taking center stage.
I personally appreciate the value of tightly arranged playing that still lets you hear the moving parts at the same time. It’s not an easy thing to pull off. And that’s what stands out for me on this track.
On VHS is available for download right now. So, you should.
Listen to this track by Canadian space rockers and Beatles reunion suspects Klaatu. It’s their 1977 hit single “Sub-Rosa Subway”, a song that bothered the charts less than the rumours surrounding it bothered the music press and rock fandom at the height of the “will-they-or-won’t-they” era of hoped for Beatles reunions of the mid-to-late ’70s.
And for Beatles fans, this tune was certainly a treat to the ears, making many a Beatles circa ’67 musical reference as it does. The song was a double-A side hit with another song of theirs, “Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)”, which would later be covered by the Carpenters, of all people. Both songs appeared on the band’s 1976 LP 3:47 EST.
Yet, with this song it wasn’t just that the tune sounded Beatlesque. At the time, it was actually thought to be a surreptitious move on the part of the Fab Four themselves to reunite, with “clues” that were thrown around to make the “Paul Is Dead” rumours of a decade previous seem almost sensible.
But, Klaatu were a real band -Terry Draper, John Woloschuk, and Dee Long – albeit one that owed a debt to the Beatles on this song. Even they were surprised, and probably not just a little put out, to learn that a journalist had outed them as being a front for a real life Beatles reunion.
Listen to this track by Winnipeg-based art rock duo Querkus. It’s “Half-Acid Lee”, a cinematic John Barry-meets-prog-meets-pop song as taken from the band’s 2011 debut album Spaces Between the Leaves Make Room For the Stars. The song is a part of a richly-textured record that pulls in all kinds of influences which range from that 60s film music sound that also fueled acts like Portishead and early Goldfrapp, to the progressive rock complexity of King Crimson, with splashes of PJ Harvey and Kate Bush in there for good measure.
The band is comprised of two creative minds in vocalist/keyboardist Karen Asmundson and guitarist/vocalist Edgar Ozolins. Both are interested in amalgamating disparate styles and sounds together into an ambitious whole. This song is a shining example of the results of their efforts; a large-scale, and decidedly menacing track that is marked by the contrast of Asmundson’s voice against the abrasiveness of Ozolins’ guitar.
After featuring this track on my recent Winter Indie Round-Up post, I got in contact with the song’s writer Karen Asmundson. She and I talked a bit about the making of this song, about how the Querkus sound is interpreted in a live setting, about the pressures of making a debut record, and about visions of some very angry trees …
Oh, and I thought it might be fun to give away some copies of the record to you guys here. Details at the end of the interview!
Listen to this track by high-voiced Yes frontman, and holiday season enthusiast Jon Anderson. It’s the Christian-meets-pagan holiday favourite, and sang straight-up, “The Holly & the Ivy” as taken from Anderson’s 1985 Holiday-themed (sort of) LP Three Ships. This is a sort of stealth Christmas album, in that it also features some wintry, yet not specifically Christmas-related original songs by Anderson alongside traditional Christmas carols.
The song is clearly derived from a pagan past, with images of the titular holly and ivy having once been important elements to the religions of the late Roman empire, and also of Druidic religions that dominated the British Isles before they were Christianized. This suits Anderson’s milleu perfectly, having been an old hand at using pan-religious imagery and language in his songs, both with Yes and without.