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The term “prog rock” evokes an image of the 70’s. Psychedelic, experimental, high-pitched vocals, music that comes in movements rather than patterns. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that bands don’t do this anymore, but I think that the scope and variety that can be found in rock music today makes “prog rock” into a meaningless descriptor. When I search for prog rock today, I don’t get bands that sound like Gentle Giant or Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Their aesthetic (both visual and aural) appears to be one of the past. Instead, I get artists such as the ones below.

None of these artists have much in common with each other. Indeed, I have varying opinions about the bunch. However, on the off chance that the reader prefers one type of sound to another, I’ve included them all.

Tom’s Story

Last month, I went on a minor monologue about the implications of being an instrumental rock band. 20 years and thousands of albums after the release of F♯ A♯ ∞, I consider it a thrown gauntlet for any rock band to offer a truly inspired album without the “crutch” of vocals. On top of that, for as long as bands like Tiny Moving Parts or This Town Needs Guns exist, it’s going to be difficult for a standard math rock group like Tom’s Story to impress me. Technical mastery isn’t as hard to come by as maybe it once was.

That’s not to say I outright dislike the band. I really enjoyed the upbeat, almost joyful tone of Anchors. It was paced intelligently, the drumming and guitarwork are spirited, and it worked up to a crescendo that I didn’t feel to be cliched (as bands in this genre sometimes are). The band’s eponymous album is very pleasant, but it just doesn’t have any surprises in it. Songs start to repeat musical flourishes from earlier in the album, for example ~3:10 into Dream & Catcher. Mugatu is the main other song off the album that I liked. It takes the listener on a nice jaunt, if not a journey per se. If I were to take one thing out, it would be the Lumineers-tier “HEY” lines at the end.

Hidden Hospitals

These guys are either a very formulaic progressive rock band, or an extremely legit regular rock band (in the vein of Deftones or Thrice). Hidden Hospitals have a lot of variety between their tracks. Wounded Sirens is just one of several of their tracks off Surface Tension that exhibits one of my favorite musical aesthetics: the loud-quite dichotomy. They seem to be a fan of it, although thankfully they approach it in different ways song-to-song. Pulp has more of a volume spike than a rise-and-fall wave. I think that what hurts the album is that it doesn’t really have a “killer track” that helps memorialize it (per last month: where is its Belong?). As much as it’s a worthwhile listen, I can’t call it a must listen. The band simply isn’t adding that much to the musical pool that you can’t get elsewhere. One last track recommendation off the album is Trilogy.

Adjy

Like so many of the greatest bands to be featured on this blog, Adjy only has to offer one 24 minute EP — but what an EP it is. Overflowing with creativity, equal parts subtle and energetic, dynamic… it is the type of release that promises something new every time you hear it. Let’s just go through the whole thing, shall we? The band has a very intuitive sense of when to ramp up a song. The opening minute of Praepositio represents one of those just a little too rare moments where I became wholly and truly thankful I listened to an album. They do even better on their mini-epic, Another Flammarion Woodcut. The transition from the pensive first (dare I say) movement to the driven second at around 2:45 is masterful. Due to the somewhat lengthy nature of the song, they’re able to strongly develop the rise-and-fall movement I mentioned with Hidden Hospitals to great effect.

That sense of motion is present in all of their tracks (moving on to Hyperthymesia). The vocalist has a nearly unceasing cadence, and it gives a perception that every pause has a purpose. It is like the act of breathing. The bands provides an almost folk-like amount of instrumental variety, the more nuanced of which are on display in Grammatology. Electronics, keyboards, a variety of percussion from the deep to the tingly, and of course the classic rock ensemble.

All in all, I’m quite impressed with the group. I hope they’ve got more to come.

Invalids

I have never heard a frantic math rock band sound so sublime. I give commendations to Invalids for maintaining such a coherent sense of melody on songs like School Social (which is quite representative of their discography). All the members of the band go absolutely wild on the instruments, but they always manage to keep the song together as a whole. I find myself at the end of the song wondering how I got there.

Similar to Adjy, their songs seem to have movements or phases. As can be heard in Halo Brace, the band is quite dynamic — making adjustments to volume, pacing, and even tone to some degree throughout each track. As good as Invalids is at the mathy sections of their songs, I think they do the peaceful sections the best. It is perhaps the contrast that makes them stand out so well. I can think of no better example than Petrichor, another excellent track off my favorite Invalids album, Strengths. In a blog post full of songs showcasing how to execute the rise-and-fall well, this song is one of the best. The band makes full use of stereo audio to add layers upon layers with the bass and the guitars, even at the song’s most subdued moments. It has the quality where I can’t decide where the song is going to go next at any point throughout. It’s just another thing Invalids does well. I recommend both Strengths and Eunoia.

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One thought on “Is prog rock even real?

  1. I find that the term Prog Rock is just the header these days because there are SO many different facets to the genre that it’s often hard to keep up with who’s who and what’s what. As a huge fan of the genre and many of its sub-genre facets and an avant-garde prog artist myself it’s very interesting to see who labels you as what and what you consider yourself as. Sure Prog is Gentle Giant, ELP, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, early Kraftwerk, Eilliff, Porcupine Traumhaus and a slew of others but then you get a lot of bands who claim to be Progressive Metal, house, RIO, Math Rock etc etc etc. It seems to be that nowadays people will call themselves something for either the sake of it or when you can’t really label it as anything else the term Prog Rock gets slapped on to them because they have a couple of songs with funky timbre changes or time signatures and sound effects etc. Yes Prog is still very much alive and very diverse with new bands coming out all the time and a lot of the 70’s bands are doing either reunion tours or still chugging along or forming new arrangements with new artists to reformulate their sounds. Prog’s not dead, never was, it just took a back seat from about 1980 onward aside from bands like King Crimson, Marillion, David Gilmour and Roger Waters solo efforts etc in the 80’s but even they fell in to the commercialism of television and the instrumentation of the day but they still held their own.

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