Apparently I’m still alive. Unfortunately, other priorities have arisen over the past few months that have kept me from writing about the various prog topic bouncing in around in my head.
As a sincere sign that I plan on once again spewing prog-based ramblings into the void, please enjoy this crappy video I took of Adrian Belew Power Trio at a recent concert at the Williamsburg Waterfront in Brooklyn. No hipsters were harmed in the making of this video.
I have a soft spot in my brain for instrumental groups. Prog artists are rarely great with words, and often they just end up sounding contrived, shallow, or foolish when they try to come up with lyrics that fit their ridiculous melodies. Instrumental groups are wise enough to forego these often pointless exercises, and I appreciate their ability to communicate without being explicit (as a wise robot once said, “Your lyrics lack subtlety, you can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”)
The Suite Unraveling is a good example of how you don’t need words in music. The group falls somewhere on the spectrum between jazz and prog, which can be a hard line to straddle without becoming boring as hell or overly pretentious (or most often, both). Typically bands in this predicament will get too comfortable in their own skin and forget that their music needs to go somewhere, instead of droning on for ten minutes on the same chord progression like a depressed Buddhist chant. The Suite Unraveling avoids this pit fall on their most recent album, Music for Robots, fairly well. While I’d be lying if I told you that these songs rush from phrase to phrase, you will never wonder when the band is going to get over themselves and move on to the next point they’re trying to make. The vibe the album creates is methodical but energized, and even on my first listen I found myself really enjoying what my ear holes were witnessing.
The first comparisons I drew in my mind listening to Music for Robots were to the albums King Crimson put out between In the Court of the Crimson King and Red, as well as some of the less frantic Mahavishnu Orchestra selections. All of these bands take a “we’ll get there when we get there” approach to their songs that I find extremely listenable, though I know others don’t share this view. None of this is music to dance, headbang, skank, or freak out to, but it’s not music to zone out to either. In each song there’s a lot going on at any given moment, yet none of it ever happens in an ADHD sort of way where everything becomes random and disjointed, and substance gets lost in a flurry of poly-rhythms, prime numbers and dissonance. One idea clearly follows another, and instead of trying to squish and trim it’s material the band takes it’s time exploring each moment they create before moving on to the next.
It’s not music that will appeal to everyone immediately, but I really enjoyed listening to Music for Robots. As I said before, if you like early King Crimson but want something less sinister, or if you like Mahvishnu Orchestra but desire a little less aural masturbation (note: Obviously I’m still a huge fan of aural masturbation!) then you very well might enjoy The Suite Unraveling.
Check them out at http://www.suiteunraveling.blogspot.com/
(Note to my family: This is not a gift list for me. You should have gotten your 2009 Gift List on December 26th of last year, please refer to that and ask me for a new copy if you some how lost or original).
It’s that time of year again, where we all force ourselves to cheer up and see the brighter side of life, and part of that brighter side is giving gifts to all of our coworkers, neighbors, bar tenders, and if we’re feeling super generous, friends and family.
Now chances are that if you know a fan of progressive rock, it’s been a huge pain in the ass to find them an appropriate gift. They already own all the music they want, since they never wait more than 4 hours until after a record is released to get their hands on the limited collector’s vinyl edition with 300 page color art book and band commentary DVD. On the other end, the only things they don’t have that they want cost tens of thousands of dollars (see: Neil Peart’s drum kit from the Test For Echo tour, Robert Fripp’s stage stool, the 2nd neck on Chris Squire’s 3-neck bass, etc). So you usually just end up buying them something from the Apple store and move on.
BUT NOT THIS YEAR! This year you have the Prog Blog’s guide to holiday shopping for the common prog fan. While things like a gym membership, soap, or clothes that they weren’t wearing back in high school may provide more immediate and obvious benefits, I’m here to help you find the gifts that your prog fan boy or girl (ok, lets be honest, boy) truly desire:
Applications for our iPhone that lets us make music as if we were a 3-year old:
Prog fans, like all dirty hippie creative types, love Apple products and probably had an iPhone before Steve Jobs had one. You can tap into this irrational love for a nominal product by getting them one of the many iPhone apps that let regular douche bags sound like cutting edge musicians.
Bebot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpgxd8bljtg) is one app that lets you create all sorts of noise just by touching and dragging your fingers across the phone’s screen. You can also add tons of effects to make it sound like you’re doing something much more complicated than randomly pointing at the screen. I will commend the creators of the application here because I think they’ve created something that, by default, allows the user to sound at least as skilled as Sigur Ros.
If this is too ‘artifical’ for someone trying to use their iPhone as an instrument, you can get them Pocket Guitar (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51cWRrZdkwk&feature=related) which will let them remember why they hated their first guitar teacher AND make them sound like a crappy midi file. Or, if they’re a wind player, you can get them the Ocarina app (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdQvSWXaODs&feature=related) which has already been used to play every single song from Zelda about 8 billion times on youtube, shockingly.
Invent a new audio format
Prog is all about one-upmanship. So you can play the guitar AND bass part to “La Villa Strangiato” at the same time AND do it at twice the tempo Rush played it at? So what, I can do that AND play drums!
One thing prog fans love to one-up each other on is the audio format of their music collection. From vinyl to eight track to cassette tape to compact disc to WAV to MP3 to DVD-A to FLAC to OGG back to vinyl again for some stupid reason, we always want to tell other people how ‘pure’ sounding the music we listen to is. No one ever really wins this battle, but we still all scramble to convert our archives any time a new format appears claiming to be the only true way to listen to an artist’s music. Thus, if you want to give your prog fan a special gift, invent an audio format that no one else has. Then present it to them and tell that that NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD HAS THAT FORMAT. He or she will probably leave immediately to update their collection, half joyful that they will be ahead of the curve and half shameful that they didn’t have format before you invented it.
If you need help with an idea for what format you want to use, here are a few free ones I promise don’t exist yet:
-Honeycombs full of bees
-ACTUAL solid gold and platinum records
-Human flesh (depending on the body part, they may REALLY enjoy this one)
See, it’s easy. And no, don’t worry, they won’t question whether or not the bees moving and stinging the listener is a disadvantage. They should have done a better job preserving the media!
The album cover from In the Court of the Crimson King on anything
We love this album cover. We don’t care that it freaks other people out. It’s basically our mascot. We’d paint it on our houses and cars if it didn’t kill the resale value. Honestly, if we woke up one morning and found it had been tattooed across our back, we’d love it. Just go over to cafepress.com and stick it on a shirt or a mug or a bumper sticker or baby or whatever and give it to us. We won’t care that we’re breaking numerous laws by owning an illegal piece of merchandise, and neither should you.
Stuff for an instrument we don’t actually play
The first thing prog fans love feeling is superior, but the second thing we love feeling is eclectic. Chances are we already own everything we can possibly want or afford for our main instrument (because we all play at least one instrument, DUH), but you can encourage that we waste time on a new instrument by buying us something for an instrument we barely play, or even better, don’t even play at all.
For instance I am a drummer, but I own a guitar that I can’t play for shit. It hangs on my wall and laughs at me whenever I try to pick it up. What I SHOULD do is put it in its case and find someone who wants a great Babicz Tribeca acoustic guitar (mmm blatant shilling for Babicz guitars goes here) so that my roommate doesn’t have to suffer needlessly through my ‘practicing’. However when my sister gave me a Rock Band (mmm blatant shilling for Rock Band goes here) song book for said guitar for one of the various winter holidays my family celebrates, I loved it.
You can do the same for your prog fan. If they have a drum kit sitting in their basement that was left their by the drummer in their last band, buy them some drum sticks (and yourself some ear plugs). If their grandmother left them a keyboard in her will, get them a sustain pedal! If you want to be really creative, get them something for an instrument they don’t even play, like slide lubricant for a trombone or bow rosin for a cello. They’ll get the hint, trust me!
Hopefully now your head is full of great gift ideas for the prog fans in your life. Go forth with new confidence that for the first time since they became a fan of the best music in the world, you’ll have found a gift that truly fits their totally awesome life style. It might kind of be like giving a crack addict a pipe for the holidays, but don’t worry, at least one person always loves an enabler!
Ok, so that’s probably not totally accurate, but last night on The Venture Brothers (possibly the only [adultswim] show with a plot) a lot of fans got their first taste of progressive rock. Considering that this is one of my favorite shows on tv, I can’t describe how happy this segment made me. The prog-gy goodness actually continued later in the show, but here’s a quick video clip of the awesomeness.