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THINKING PLAGUE

RIO/Avant-Prog • United States


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Thinking Plague picture
Thinking Plague biography
Has been active off and on since 1982 -

Colorado-based THINKING PLAGUE explores the frontiers where rock, folk, jazz and modern symphonic music meet. THINKING PLAGUE has established itself as the logical successor to HENRY COW and ART BEARS, bringing the Rock in Opposition style into the Nineties. As with all of the better RIO bands, THINKING PLAGUE's music is both melodic and angular, containing equal measures of rock and jazz. Definitely on the cutting edge of the current progressive rock scene.

"In This Life" is highly recommended. This 70 minute disc captures a unique style that is about as reminiscent of ICONOCLASTA as that band is of Lamb-era GENESIS. A really great release but not for those who don't like way our RIO. "In Extremis" should become a classic in the Rock in Opposition sub-genre. This is still plenty RIO styled, but it's not as difficult to listen to as "In This Life". As a matter of fact, some of the pieces remind me a bit of GENTLE GIANT at their most raucous ("The Power and the Glory").

2000 brought "Early Plague Years", a two-on-one CD rerelease that allowed many people to hear the first two albums for the first time. This album is hard to beat. You'd have to be primordial ooze to not think this is brilliant.

The band has had evolving line-ups over the years centered on main man Mike Johnson. Bob Drake was central to the band over the years with his last appearance as a credited musician on In Extremis, he has continued to be involved in production. Over the years the core of the band has become Johnson, Dave Willey (Bass), & Mark Harris (Sax & Reeds). The vocals have always been a key component of the the bands sound with Suzanne Lewis, Deborah Perry, & Elaine DiFalco filling the role over the years.

Despite the lengthy periods between albums, typically 5 to 10 years, the consistency of approach, the recognizable 'Plague' sound, and quality of songwriting has kept Thinking Plague at the forefront of Avant music into the 2010's.

Thinking Plague official website

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Buy THINKING PLAGUE Music


Hoping Against HopeHoping Against Hope
CUNEIFORM RECORDS 2017
Audio CD$12.99
$13.66 (used)
In This LifeIn This Life
CUNEIFORM RECORDS 2017
Audio CD$12.73
$12.72 (used)
The Early Plague YearsThe Early Plague Years
CUNEIFORM RECORDS 2017
Audio CD$45.00
In ExtremisIn Extremis
Alliance 2017
Audio CD$42.83 (used)
In This LifeIn This Life
Rer 2003
Audio CD$79.99
$10.11 (used)
In This Life by Thinking PlagueIn This Life by Thinking Plague
CUNEIFORM
Audio CD$34.02
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THINKING PLAGUE discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

THINKING PLAGUE top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.44 | 31 ratings
A Thinking Plague
1984
3.56 | 35 ratings
Moonsongs
1987
4.02 | 64 ratings
In This Life
1989
4.34 | 162 ratings
In Extremis
1998
4.15 | 75 ratings
A History Of Madness
2003
3.39 | 54 ratings
Decline And Fall
2012
3.98 | 62 ratings
Hoping Against Hope
2017

THINKING PLAGUE Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.98 | 18 ratings
Upon Both Your Houses
2004

THINKING PLAGUE Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

THINKING PLAGUE Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.10 | 22 ratings
Early Plague Years
2000

THINKING PLAGUE Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

THINKING PLAGUE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 In Extremis by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 1998
4.34 | 162 ratings

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In Extremis
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Luqueasaur

5 stars In Extreme Oddity: 9/10

THINKING PLAGUE always had it rough for their unique musical style. Forming and disbanding constantly and receiving modest attention for their releases, it wasn't until the release of IN EXTREMIS in 1998 (the band had reformed just two years earlier) that they acquired (rather moderate) stardom and recognition within many avant- rock circles.

IN EXTREMIS is a difficult album to describe, even within the Avant-Prog genre. Let's begin by making one thing clear: THINKING PLAGUE is not the type of avant-garde band that is absolutely inaccessible (aka weird for the sake of weirdness). They DO sound like, uhm, identifiable music, the only catch is that everything - song structure, chord progression, vocal rhythm, etc - is absolutely unconventional and unexpected. Planned to border cacophony (creating unpredictable and eerie sounds) but not going as far as sounding bad. You can also expect EXTREME complexity and rigid structures; TP is to prog what prog is to pop. You'll hear all the time lush polyphony with constant odd time signatures shift and restless, ever-changing sections consisting of several instruments. However, THINKING PLAGUE make their intricate music flow natural - quite an accomplishment - and you won't notice its elaborate nature unless you pay attention to that.

Amusingly, the vocalist of that mad band has quite a tender voice. I ended up loving Deborah Perry as much as I love Jon Anderson. They both offer gentle, delicate and soprano (acute/high-pitched) vocals, but differently from our British friend whose vocals fit seamlessly in the joyful and mystical atmosphere of his band, Perry's performance is antithetical: her delicacy contrasts with the bustling instrumental clash that accompanies her voice. Initially, it feels odd (just like everything else in THINKING PLAGUE) but as you get used it feels more and more natural and part of the band's eccentric style. After all, it doesn't sound disjunct or like a failed stunt.

Dead Silence and Behold the Man are the first two tracks and offer Perry's vocals. They're great openers and demonstrate the band's RIOish tendencies and influences. This Weird Wind is less daring and more symphonic at some points and features male vocals but is equally a great listen. Les Etudes d'Organism is the most accessible track, offering a typical avant-prog approach to music with much more conventional songwriting and melodies. It is entirely instrumental. Maelstrom and The Aesthete returns with Perry's vocals but isn't as memorable as the first two. Lastly, Kingdom Come is a veiled critique of the hypocrisy of divinity (which is all so holy and pitiful yet created a world with suffering and damnation) with heeeeavy symphonic tendencies.

Overall, I'd say listening to IN EXTREMIS is like being an astronaut plunging in an unforeseen and utterly weird planet. Although you are familiar with the very foundational characteristics of that planet (such as, you're in that planet), pretty much everything else on it is different, unlike anything you've ever seen and known. But hey, that's the point of avant-prog, which is why I pretty confidently claim that THINKING PLAGUE is a hell of an accomplished band.

 Hoping Against Hope by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.98 | 62 ratings

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Hoping Against Hope
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

5 stars The last THINKING PLAGUE album I enjoyed this much was "In Extremis" and while I don't rate this one quite that high this has been such a pleasant surprise for me. I found the previous album "Decline And Fall" difficult to digest but this one was love at first listen and that love continues to grow after many listens. My first listen of this album was like meeting an old friend, I was pretty happy. Elaine Di Falco is back on vocals and we get the usual dark atmospheres with plenty of horns, mostly sax and clarinets of different varieties along with accordion, bassoon, flute and the usual "rock" instruments.

"The Echoes Of Their Cries" opens with a dark atmosphere as piano, bass, drums and more come and go before vocals and a steady sound arrive a minute in. Some nice guitar follows as the vocals step aside quickly. Soon drums, horns and many intricate sounds fill the air. A calm before 2 minutes then Elaine is back singing. Her vocals are stronger at 3 1/2 minutes, love the instrumental work here. So good. A dark calm around 4 1/2 minutes but then it kicks back in quickly, vocal melodies too. I like the accordion in this one from Elaine.

"Thus Have We Made The World" is dark and atmospheric until it kicks in with bass and drums. Man this sounds amazing, really powerful as horns and many intricate sounds also help out. So impressive! Outbursts of sound come and go 2 minutes in before a calm arrives at 2 1/2 minutes. It kicks back in before another calm arrives at 3 1/2 minutes. Love these contrasts. Eerie sounds before 5 minutes and beyond and check out that bass.

"Commuting To Murder" starts off sounding too light to be THINKING PLAGUE then Elaine arrive singing followed by a more typical THINKING PLAGUE sound after a minute with the bass and drums kicking in. A calm follows then check out the bass 2 minutes in! Sax follows then guitar before the vocals return. Accordion after 3 1/2 minutes as the vocals stop. Such an impressive instrumental section here. It's lighter again around 4 minutes like the intro as it ends like it began.

"Hoping Against Hope" is an incredible track. Again heavy and dark is the way I'd describe the start with oboe over top I believe. Vocals after a minute and when she stops singing we get an amazing section beginning 2 minutes in. She's back but whispering this time then singing a minute later. She doesn't sing for long each time and again I love the instrumental passages on this one. It picks up after 4 minutes with piano, horns, bass and drums. It's building as we get some excellent guitar, drums and more. Another calm 6 1/2 minutes in and soon bassoon arrives(yeah it does!). This is dark as vocals return before 8 minutes. Shuffling drums, flute and more end it. What a song!

"The Great Leap" features Simon Steensland on bass which is very cool. Another melancholic piece with vocals. Gloomy is the word. Some power before 2 1/2 minutes but it's brief as the vocals return.

"A Dirge For The Unwitting" is the almost 14 minute closer and it doesn't deviate from the sound that has gone on before thankfully. Yes "dirge" is a good description of a lot of what we hear on this album. This is fairly slow moving with some outbursts. Nice bass work and I like the sax. It calms right down at 3 minutes and it doesn't start to build until after 6 minutes then it kicks in before 7 minutes. It settles back again quickly. Vocals arrive 8 minutes in followed by some avant guitar lines before 9 minutes. It settles again with vocals and eerie sounds. It picks up again 12 minutes in with a lot of depressing sounds(haha). I love it!

This is where I start to compile my "best of" list for 2017 as I was waiting for that first 2017 album to really wow me. I am almost giddy about this one, just how dark and atmospheric it is. Yes the best since "In Extremis" in my opinion. Mike Johnson is so freaking talented but then so is the whole band. Check out the album art as well. This is first class all the way.

 Hoping Against Hope by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.98 | 62 ratings

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Hoping Against Hope
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by cirrusbay

5 stars I really don't have the words for how well crafted and amazing this album is. Full of strange beauty and subtle intricacies, this is an album to listen to loud, at night, when you can focus on every note and allow yourself to be completely captivated. Every note seems perfectly placed, and whereas fast runs are usually found in solos, here they are found in subtle and almost delicate, yet intense forays of composition, which to my ears is a much more effective and appealing way to demonstrate one's chops. But chops are not really what this is about. I have to apologize, I so rarely write a review, and don't want to bungle it up with repetitive adjectives, but don't know how else to explain this. This album, furthering the sound of their previous album, is in a world of its own. I know of nothing else out there that sounds quite like this. A touch of King Crimson, yes, but only a touch. I tend to think, how can one listen and not be blown away, but in a world we have to hope against hope in, for many reasons, I think it will be truly appreciated only by the relative few. Too bad. This deserves so much more. Even among the prog communities.
 Hoping Against Hope by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.98 | 62 ratings

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Hoping Against Hope
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Crossover Prog Team

4 stars Fast forward to 2017, and Thinking Plague show no sign at all of compromising their ideals. Mike Johnson is the only person who has been there throughout, but he is steering this ship on a very clear path. The line-up now is Mike (guitar, samples, midi instruments), Mark Harris (soprano and alto saxes, B-flat standard and bass clarinets, flute), Dave Willey: (bass, drums, accordion), Elaine di Falco (voice, accordion, piano), Robin Chestnut (drums, percussion) and Bill Pohl (guitar). Now, I have come across Bill quite a few times previously, having reviewed his solo album 'Solid Earth' back in 1994, plus some other of his bands since then such as The Underground Railroad, so I was intrigued to see his involvement. He has always been a fine guitarist with a passion for music that can be somewhat different and difficult to listen to, and here is being allowed to give that full rein.

In many ways, this is a more melodic and easier album to listen to than some of their others, but that isn't to say that they have moved away from their core purpose of RIO, just that it has a slightly different flavour. There are times when the different woodwind instruments take the lead, repeating motifs, but this just allows the guitars to break in and out of the song with extremely quick runs. Elaine doesn't have the same natural other worldliness displayed by Susanne on the classic 'In This Life', but fits in perfectly with this adjusted style of music.

Thinking Plague may have changed somewhat in the intervening thirty years between these two albums, but hasn't everyone? But, they are still true to their roots and this could never be any other band. Exciting and enthralling, there really is no-one else quite like them. They will only ever appeal to a select few, but those few will be greatly enriched by hearing this.

 In This Life by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 1989
4.02 | 64 ratings

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In This Life
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Crossover Prog Team

4 stars Reissued as a remastered edition in 2015, 'In This Life' is not merely a fascinating album of extraordinary rock-based songs. It is a landmark recording in the life of one of America's most distinctive bands and in the international spread of Rock in Opposition-style sophisticated post-rock. Recorded in 1988-89 by Denver-based Thinking Plague, one of the most esteemed and longstanding American avant-progressive ensembles, 'In This Life' marked Thinking Plague's stylistic coming-of-age. The band had recorded two earlier albums in the years since its 1982 co-founding by Mike Johnson and Bob Drake: those early works brought Thinking Plague national "underground" acclaim. But the line-up responsible for In This Life, with Mike Johnson handling composition and Susanne Lewis supplying lyrics and vocals, proved to be the early group's ideal creative brew. It was originally released on Recommended Records (ReR), the London-based label run by Chris Cutler, founder of the Rock in Opposition movement and member of renowned band Henry Cow. One track on the album featured a guest appearance by Fred Frith, the legendary Henry Cow/Art Bears guitarist. It became ReR's first-ever release on the then-radically-new format of CD - a format that simplified the disc's international distribution.

Even now, all these years on from when it was originally released, this is in many ways quite a frightening and disturbing album, almost as if Art Zoyd have gone to another level and have then brought in a female singer who is totally at odds with what else is going on musically behind her. This was never meant to be an album that was easy to listen to, and with its discordant melodies and other worldliness, is one that will repel far more people than would ever listen to it. It is off key, it is controlled, it is anarchic, yet for me is also deeply compelling. It isn't an album that I will ever play a great deal, but I find myself drawn back to it time and again. This isn't music for a large audience on a bright sunny day, but is to be enjoyed in the night, when nothing else will suffice. RIO doesn't get much more inventive and important as this.

 Decline And Fall by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.39 | 54 ratings

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Decline And Fall
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

2 stars It's a pretty ballsy move calling an album "Decline and Fall", especially when it's your comeback after nearly a decade has gone by without any studio work from you has come up. This followup to A History of Madness feels, to be honest, just a little lukewarm. All the usual Thinking Plague motifs are here, but somehow they add up to less than the sum of their parts, and at points it feels like the band hit on something which could be a really nice art-pop tune which they they then feel obliged to clutter up with the sort of RIOish mayhem we expect from them.

Is this the sound of a band clinging to their old sound for so long they begin to repeat themselves, or flirting with the idea of changing direction but ultimately chickening out? We can't know for sure, but what I do know is that if you have In Extremis or In This Life you don't have any need of this.

 A History Of Madness by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 2003
4.15 | 75 ratings

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A History Of Madness
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Thinking Plague's History of Madness demonstrates that a little thinking goes a long way. Often cited as being difficult, the fact is that none of the Plague's output has exactly been simple and accessible, and the avant-jazz stylings of this album don't feel like an enormous departure from past precedent. To my ears, each Thinking Plague album since the debut saw a fairly major development of their sound, but by this point they are more evolutionary than revolutionary, and this evolution takes them a little too far into the realms of complex technical execution without a distinct and strong idea behind it. Competent, but not classic.
 Upon Both Your Houses  by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Live, 2004
3.98 | 18 ratings

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Upon Both Your Houses
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is a live set from Nearfest in June 2000, where Thinking Plague played an intimate set for an appreciative audience. Due to the complexity of their material these live renditions naturally end up sounding a bit different from their studio versions - but different enough to be worth a listen in their own way. Naturally, the band's then-latest studio release In Extremis is heavily represented, and there's also three songs from In This Life and two songs (well, one song and some extracts) from Moonsongs, so a reasonable spread of the group's career is represented; plus you have some on-the-spot improvisations in the form of Hamster Dance and a piano solo.

The setlist is carefully chosen and delivered in such a way to provide a varied experience which flows quite well, with even songs from very different stages of the group's development fitting together naturally. The recording quality is also excellent, making this a worthwhile pick for any RIO fan.

 Moonsongs by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 1987
3.56 | 35 ratings

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Moonsongs
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Thinking Plague refined their approach between their debut and the more mature Moonsongs, which has a more distinct sound all of its own that is less dependent on the Plague's various RIO influences and antecedents. The epic title track works its way through pulsating rhythms and strange vocal experiments and is an obvious highlight, whilst elsewhere the album reveals a darker and more aggressive direction for the group than the debut album had offered. Whilst I think that In This Life has the edge as far as Thinking Plague's 1980s materials goes, Moonsongs is certainly hot on its heels and worthy of the attention of any avant-prog fan.
 A Thinking Plague by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 1984
3.44 | 31 ratings

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A Thinking Plague
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Thinking Plague's debut album - quite rare in its original issue, and much easier to find as half of the Early Plague Years compilation - mashes up the avant-prog RIO sound of Henry Cow with a more whimsical and less overtly political outlook, and freshens things up with a distinctive 1980s sound thanks largely to Sharon Bradford's minisynth and a production style reminiscent of, say, Peter Gabriel's third or fourth self-titled album. It's certainly an oddball number, and Thinking Plague accomplish what their inspirations Henry Cow sometimes failed to do in terms of producing material that is experimental enough to feel fresh but at the same time isn't extremely difficult to get into. A promising start all round.
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