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Van Der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 2133 ratings

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Prog Leviathan
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Van Der Graaf Generator's beautiful, dreadful, evocative, and challenging Pawn Hearts is rightly one of the highest rated albums on this website... and I feel sort of ashamed that it went noticed by myself for as long as it has! This ambitious album is packed with so much artistry, musicianship, and unapologetic noise that it deserves to be held up alongside the best of the best, even though it doesn't give one the same experience as the pinnacle of Yes' or Genesis' output. If you're familiar with VDGG, then you probably know why. If you're just discovering prog music, or haven't yet explored this sometimes forgotten classic group, here's why you should check out this album.

Pawn Hearts makes great use of VDGG's unique instrumentation: keyboards, percussion, bass, and woodwinds. The absence of guitar seems at first like a gigantic risk, but the holes it leaves opens up so many musical opportunities explored by the group. Organ, piano, and mellotron often take the lead, but very differeantly than that "other" keyboard-led prog band (ELP). The keyboards weave a complex, moody, and often times dark tapestry of sound that pulls the listener in deeper and deeper. The excellent drumming of Evans provides an equally complex and nuanced performance, creating patterns and rhythms that must be explored to be truley appreciated. The woodwinds provide the most unique flavor of all, giving the album those not-quite-jazz moments that add one more level of originality to the songs. The players are all exceptional and play very tight together. While there are solos, they are rare and not attention grabbing. The end result is a sound that is very unique when compared to other bands that form the core of classic prog.

The songs and their composition are amazing. At times abstract, others beautiful, and others still manic or intense, there is genuine creativity and depth to these works. More so than say, Yes, who as a band often rely on very strong melodies or driving rock moments, Pawn Hearts is much more abstract, daunting, and unapproachable. It takes guts to listen to this album, but its rewards the listener constantly with powerful, sweeping moments of dramatic pay off. Outstanding writing and implementation of the group's talents make for many wonderful musical moments adrift in the moody darkness.

Hammill's lyrics are poetic and dense, telling introspective stories. His voice has a dynamic range and is full of emotion, though again is a factor that will challenge many listeners. Don't expect the sweet sustains of Jon Anderson, playful tenor of Ian Anderson, or theatrical polish of Peter Gabriel. Hammill instead sounds raw, even unhinged at times. As a prominent sound throughout Pawn Hearts, vocals may be the thing that turns listeners away from this work. In the past I've had guests be weirded out when approachable classic prog like "Close to the Edge" and "Supper's Ready" come on my music list... I can guarantee that any song on Pawn Hearts will make people leave the room. Now that's prog rock!!!

This is an experimental, musical, and complex work that should belong in every prog fan's library. Though VDGG doesn't have quite the legacy of some of the other bands that got me into prog, they're every bit as creative and important to the genre. Take the challenge and check out Pawn Hearts.

Songwriting: 5 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 4 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 5

Prog Leviathan | 5/5 |


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