Thought For The Day
Thought For The Day
Uh-Oh, Prog's Back!

A few days ago an e mail came in from 3D Corporation in Tokyo commissioning me to make a new mini-album for Kahimi Karie to be released in May 2000. The budget is $25,000 for five songs. I'll write the songs this month then record them between my CMJ appearance in September and touring the US in October.

This exciting commission comes at an interesting and dangerous moment in my stylistic evolution: the strange place where Analog Baroque meets Progressive Rock. Right now, for example, I'm listening to prog folk band Gryphon's 'Midnight Mushrumps' album, which combines Early Music (crumhorns, sackbutts, harpsichords) with prog twiddle.

Beastly Beasts, Gigantic Giants And A Ghostly Ghost

I've been buying lots of vintage vinyl. Recent purchases:

Vangelis: Albedo 039
Kayak: See See The Sun
Gentle Giant: The Power And The Glory
Gong: Flying Teapot
Tonto's Expanding Headband: Zero Time
Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives Of Henry VIII

Now, a lot of this music is stuff I learned in the 70s to abhor and would normally pay to avoid. It's music my generation wiped off the face of the earth with Punk and New Wave. And that's exactly what makes it transgressive and exciting now. It has the allure of everything forbidden, everything tasteless. It's terra incognita.

I feel about Prog pretty much as I do about the sexual perversions in songs like The Guitar Lesson and The Cabriolet. Mixed feelings of repulsion and attraction, disgust and fascination. Prog, like necrophilia, draws me to it precisely because it goes against the grain of many of my moral and aesthetic codes.

It's all about musicianship, and I've always sided with the non-musicians. It's Romantic, whereas I've usually preferred Classicism (in my somewhat personal definition Juvenal, Poussin, Brecht, Tom Lehrer and Kraftwerk are all Classical). The tension in Prog between pastoral escapism (swords and sorcery, medievalism) and high technology fascinates me, as does the contradiction between its professed artistic seriousness and the obvious vulgarity of its eventual destinations: Wagner and Tolkein on ice, the dismal machismo of Heavy Metal.

Of course there were other origins of Prog, and other destinations. Gong and Soft Machine (already sampled on Kahimi's biggest hit, Good Morning World) represent Prog's most quirky origins, and one definition of the genre could extend it all the way to two of Britain's best late 90s groups, The Beta Band and Add N To (X).

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

I'm reading Paul Stump's excellent book on Prog, The Music's All That Matters. As usual, a lot of this music sounds better in your imagination when you read about it than it does when you put the records on. Prog still sounds to me like a lot of fussy, pompous musicianly twiddling with too many unnecessary chords and stupid time signatures. The punk in me still wants to blow it all away.

But there are some beautiful things in there that I can plunder and recontextualise for Kahimi. For example, the idea that a song can be structured ABCDEFG... rather than ABCBDCCC. That it can diverge endlessly, and aspire somehow to some cosmic beyond. I aim to make a synthetic baroque Prog Pop based on some of the indisputably lovely structures I've encountered in songs like:

Roxy Music: Sea Breezes
Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody
Gentle Giant: Aspirations

Total Eclipse Of The Sun

I talked to Kahimi in Paris about the Prog idea, and she liked it. We imagined the people at Japanese music magazine Marquee, who have been labouring for a couple of years already to bring Prog back into fashion, creaming themselves. Of course, some people may think we're just jumping onto a new bandwagon, Ironic Prog, in order to abandon the sinking ship of Ironic Loungecore. Who knows? Such are the risks we cosmopolitan sophisticate postmodernists run. Personally, I see it as a continuation of the adventures in sound I've been calling Analog Baroque. (Plus, the name Momus always did sound like some dinosaur Prog band from 1972...)

In just a couple of hours there will be an eclipse of the sun over Britain. All day Hoxton's trendiest pub, The Bricklayer's Arms, is hosting a mini Prog festival.

Shit, here comes everybody!

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