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RIO/AVANT-PROG

A Progressive Rock Sub-genre


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RIO/Avant-Prog definition

Avant-Prog

Avant-prog is an umbrella term which refers to any progressive rock artist with a strong leaning towards avant-garde and highly experimental approaches to music. Therefore, it includes the sub-genres of Rock In Opposition (see below) and Zeuhl in addition to general avant-prog artists.

Avant-prog is generally considered to be more extreme and 'difficult' than other forms of progressive rock, though these terms are naturally subjective and open to interpretation. Common elements that may or may not be displayed by specific avant-prog artists include:

- Regular use of dissonance and atonality.
- Extremely complex and unpredictable song arrangements.
- Free or experimental improvisation.
- Fusion of disparate musical genres.
- Polyrhythms and highly complex time signatures.

Most avant-prog artists are highly unique and eclectic in sound and consequently tend to resist easy comparisons. However, Frank Zappa is often cited as a major influence on many avant-prog artists due to his early adoption of avant-garde and experimental attitudes within a predominantly rock/jazz context.


Rock In Opposition

Rock In Opposition (RIO for short) is the name of a short-lived movement that has gone on to define a sub-genre of progressive rock, and which is now sometimes applied to musicians whose careers hadn't even started by the time the movement had ceased to exist in any official capacity. It is not synonymous with the term avant-prog, for whilst bands associated with RIO are (generally speaking) avant-prog in nature, most avant-prog bands are not associated with RIO.

The roots of RIO can be traced to Henry Cow, a UK progressive rock band with a distinctly avant-garde sound and left wing political ideology. Henry Cow toured extensively in Europe throughout much of the 1970s and came into contact with a few similarly inclined bands, in an ideological sense as much, if not more, than a musical one. These groups did not always have much in common stylistically, apart from a basic leaning towards fusing avant-garde qualities with elements of rock. Most of these bands were working independently at the time and had no distribution or realistic opportunity of touring outside their native countries. The idea of Rock In Opposition was to create an independent network of like-minded performers that would not be dependent on the largesse of major record companies for their survival.

Henry Cow invited four of these bands to play alongside them at the first Rock in Opposition festival on 12th March 1978, at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane in London. The British Arts Council helped the funding of the festival with a ú1000 grant. The Rock in Opposition slogan "The music the record companies don't want you to hear" was altered very slightly for the flyer advertising the first Rock in Opposition concert.

The five initial Rock in Opposition bands were:

Henry Cow (England)
Univers Zero (Belgium)
Etron Fou Leloublan (France)
Samla Mammas Manna (Sweden)
Stormy Six (Italy)

Three additional bands were later officially elected to the movement:

Art Zoyd (France)
Art Bears (England)
Aksak Maboul (Belgium)

The involved bands had many disagreements in a meeting at Sunrise Studios in Kirchberg, Switzerland in December 1978 about the purpose of the group, and its meaning. They eventually came up with a plan to continue their joint concerts. They organised three more festivals and co-operative record distributions but eventually the RIO group dissolved. It left behind a legacy that would initially be picked up by later projects from the many musicians involved with the original movement, and later on by artists inspired by the original RIO groups. Miriodor and Ensemble Nimbus are often said to be influenced by Samla Mammas Manna, for example, and are consequently sometimes referred to as RIO bands.

Since 2007, a contemporary RIO festival has been held most years in Carmaux, France. This festival has included artists closely associated with the original RIO movement alongside bands from the wider world of avant-prog and experimental music.

Dates of the original RIO festivals

12 March 1978 at New London Theatre, Drury Lane, London, England (set up by Henry Cow)
26 April 1979 to 1 May 1979 at Teatro dell'Elfo, Milano, Italia (set up by Stormy Six)
28/29 September 1979 in Uppsala, Sweden (set up by Samla Mammas Manna)
Bruxelles, Belgium (set up by Univers Zero)

Useful links

Information on RIO from Chris Cutler's website

Additional historical information on Squidco

Written/Compiled/Edited by past and present members of the RIO/Avant-Prog team

Current team members:
as at 20/05/2016

Raffaella (Raff)
Luca (octopus-4)
Ian (Nogbad_The_Bad)
Keishiro (DamoXt7942)
Ori (frippism)

RIO/Avant-Prog Top Albums


Showing only studios | Based on members ratings & PA algorithm* | Show Top 100 RIO/Avant-Prog | More Top Prog lists and filters

4.33 | 1405 ratings
HOT RATS
Zappa, Frank
4.32 | 811 ratings
THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION: ONE SIZE FITS ALL
Zappa, Frank
4.32 | 832 ratings
THE GRAND WAZOO
Zappa, Frank
4.60 | 42 ratings
TAIGA
OOIOO
4.30 | 258 ratings
SING TO GOD
Cardiacs
4.33 | 160 ratings
IN EXTREMIS
Thinking Plague
4.31 | 203 ratings
WESTERN CULTURE
Henry Cow
4.28 | 290 ratings
UZED
Univers Zero
4.43 | 67 ratings
N║ 6
Present
4.46 | 56 ratings
H─XAN
Art Zoyd
4.26 | 348 ratings
CHOIRS OF THE EYE
Kayo Dot
4.26 | 252 ratings
HERESIE
Univers Zero
4.39 | 66 ratings
BOOK M
Secret Chiefs 3
4.33 | 98 ratings
ON LAND AND IN THE SEA
Cardiacs
4.25 | 254 ratings
M┼LTID
Samla Mammas Manna
4.62 | 28 ratings
JACKSON
Korekyojin
4.36 | 70 ratings
DECEIT
This Heat
4.23 | 224 ratings
A LITTLE MAN AND A HOUSE AND THE WHOLE WORLD WINDOW
Cardiacs
4.28 | 119 ratings
BARBARO (MA NON TROPPO)
Present
4.35 | 61 ratings
ZABRANJENO PLAKATIRATI
Buldozer

RIO/Avant-Prog overlooked and obscure gems albums new


Random 4 (reload page for new list) | As selected by the RIO/Avant-Prog experts team

PLAGUE MASS
Galas, Diamanda
ENSEMBLE HAVADI└
Ensemble HavadiÓ
CARTOON
Cartoon
LETTERS HOME
News From Babel

Latest RIO/Avant-Prog Music Reviews


 Music From Left Field by CARTOON album cover Studio Album, 1983
4.11 | 14 ratings

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Music From Left Field
Cartoon RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Harold Needle

5 stars "Music from Left Field" is the second, and - unfortunately - the last album by the crazy american drums-keys-guitar trio by the name of Cartoon. For this release, they actually have two "bonus" musicians, who play woodwinds and violin. And while this album shares some similarities with their debiut from '81, the addition of woodwinds and violin really puts Cartoon in a new, fresh perspective.

First of all, I believe that the new instruments made it much easier for Cartoon to fully express their weird, cartoonish musical desires. The goofy bassoon (or is it a bass saxophone? I'm not sure) and quirky, fidgety violin match Cartoon's vision extremely well. Secondly, "Music from Left Field" sounds much richer and even symphonic (to a certain extent), compared to a rather raw and crude debiut (which is a masterpiece anyway). Cartoon actually sounds a lot like Univers Zero on this album. I think the closest album to compare would be "Ceux Du Dehors" - very simillar, gloomy atmosphere, created by acoustic chamber masterminds. However - the band's name indicates the differences between them and UZ. While dark and scary, their music is also less serious, or - sometimes - even not serious at all. But the atmosphere and overall feeling are quite in the same vein.

This album offers a plenty of different moods - from heavenly, almost minimalistic ambient, through clumsy circus music (which should leave you scared of circuses for the rest of your life), symphonic music, complex disturbing chamber-prog, hypnotising free rock/jazz, pure goofiness, grand musical void... some moments will make you crack a big smile, while others will make you scared and paranoid. And the best thing is - most of them will make you BOTH!

My recommendation: get this album and wait for the night to come. Once it's dark outside, turn off the lights, lay down on the bed, close your eyes, and just let the music play. It's an experience worth at least a thousand circus tickets.

 Secuencias GenÚticas by DECIBEL album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.95 | 3 ratings

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Secuencias GenÚticas
Decibel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by memowakeman
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Decibel is a legendary Mexican band that has been on the avant-garde scene since the late 70s, with some line-up changes and even a constant change on the direction of their sound. Despite this longevity, they still are not that praised here in my country, they still keep a low-profile and could be considered as an underground band. Fortunately, since the start of this current decade the band reformed and are living a kind of rebirth, with four solid veteran musicians that are still experimenting and creating music.

Schmidt, Robledo, Vivanco and Eisenring have put lot of time and passion to this project, taking countless elements from each musician's roots and musical tastes, so in every Decibel album from this decade we can find different sounds and tendencies. Their latest release is the wonderful Secuencias Gen'ticas, which saw the light on 2016, a 8- song album that surprises us from track to track, sharing an eclectic work in which the electronic sound plays a truly important role.

It opens with 'Krampus', and since the very first seconds we will find a clear experimental sound, with some RIO hints, dark atmospheres, some classical nuances made by piano, guitar riffs here and there and those electronics that mark the so called rhythm. 'Sogo' is like a track for a horror film. The atmosphere is so dark, there is not an existent rhythm here, just some noises that appear and disappear. It is a quite experimental track that shows the first contrast from song to song.

With 'El velo de Isis', the electronic sequences return. There is as well a dark atmosphere, but this time I found some kind of oriental flavor on the music, which by the way is shared in Bardo Thodol, an Eisenring-Vivanco side project. We can notice the sound of the guitar and also there is a subtle but nervous bass sound, well, at least I think it is the bass. 'Atlantis' does not show a rhythm as the previous track, this one has some strange noises that might take us to a desolated place, I mean, one can close the eyes and let your mind be taken by the sound of this track, and you will reach some uncertainty and even feel some kind of fear. This is probably the most difficult track off the album.

Once again Decibel delights us with a remarkable contrast, because after that chaotic track they chose to follow it with 'Terrorist Couple', which has a 30-second intro and then it will immediately take you to those far post-punk ages. The song might be repetitive but it is actually addictive, here Mr. Schmidt helps with his voice (not singing, just speaking) with a megaphone. However, I must say that you will not find it comfortable if you are not in the mood. 't.a.r.d.i.s.' brings back the experimental tunes, but this time my mind travels to space, maybe influenced by simply by the name of the song, which leads me to sci-fi thoughts. During the track I imagine that machine having maintenance because it will has a tough trip.

'Irit' is a piece I love because it might be the closest one to those RIO or avant-prog lands, reminding me a bit of Univers Zero, with the difference that this music was made by keyboards and electronics, not by the usual chamber rock instruments. The album finishes with 'Schmill' which confirms their love and tribute for painter Jos' Manuel Schmill, whose paintings has been used for some of the bands covers. In this track there are just some noises that work as background while Schmill's voice shoots some interesting phrases.

What a great album this is, not for everyone, not for every mood, but man, once again it is clear to me that these four experimental musicians have still a lot to share. My final grade, four stars.

Enjoy it!

 Buck Fever by ESTRADASPHERE album cover Studio Album, 2001
4.07 | 47 ratings

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Buck Fever
Estradasphere RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Luqueasaur

4 stars Talk about eclectism: 8/10

ESTRADASPHERE is a side-project of musicians from SECRET CHIEFS 3 which in turn was originally a side-project (but now permanent) of Trey Spruance from MR BUNGLE. The only similarity on the three bands though is that they all are avant-garde and share somewhat mutual musicians because their approach on experimental music differ completely.

The experimental eminence of ESTRADASPHERE lies on their lack of cohesion, or "innovative songwriting and structuring" if you like fancy definitions, but NOT on inaccessible and difficult Frankenstein as say grandpa MR BUNGLE builds. This characteristic (approachability) was inherited (and improved) from daddy SECRET CHIEFS 3. Therefore, it's pretty accessible. A pleasant surprise.

The songs in BUCK FEVER, as said, are fragmented and disjoint (uncoherent), they present various sections all of which demonstrate different genres which dynamically alters between the vast arrays of styles within the multi- instrumentalist six musicians' grasp. In a moment, they might be playing jazzy bossa nova, moving right after to circus music and then to symphonic funk. There are also generous doses of black metal (although they are isolated in their own tracks, they don't interact with the multi-stylistical tracks) and rather humorous video game 8-bit songs (and a jazz swing cover of Super Mario Bros 2's theme!).

They could develop their ideas freely, as apparently money was not an issue: not only the record has great quality but also there is a huge assortment of multiethnic instruments, ranging from (Australian) Aboriginal horns to African percussions. I find the variety refreshing, the gigantic amount of things they use guarantee unique multiplicity of sounds. However, I need to acknowledge they have a clear preference for brass instruments, as they are nigh omnipresent and peppers almost every song.

For as much there is a constant shift with countless styles, ESTRADASPHERE does present moments with their unique sound, a syncretism of jazz (pre-bop? Post-bop? Hard-bop? Something bop, I guess), symphonic brass and a delicious funky slappy electric guitar.

Worth mentioning is the concept, blurred between ironic appraisal and implicit criticism of ole 'Murican idolatry of hunting. Buck fever is actually a term for Americans hell-bent on killing every single horned ruminant mammal (deer) within their vicinities' temperate woods. I say the concept is difficult to understand because there are moments that can be identified as criticism but also lapses of sarcasm, and it begs the question: are they indeed detractors or just jesting around? Personally, I feel that they express their humorous, satirical view on this issue through their jazz/rock tracks, whereas their thoughtful ecologist opinions are expressed in the black metal ones.

Back to the music. I will be honest. The first time I listened to their album I went to delirium. The musicianship is indeed spectacular, the copious amounts of intertwined layers that confers enthusiasm, the brassy overload, the symphonic black metal pieces? I was betting my buttons this would be a favorite of mine. Sadly, it isn't: 72 minutes is perhaps too long for me. After a while, the ecstatic boot loses adrenaline and ESTRADASPHERE's hitherto absurd deliciousness vanishes. Well, I still think them of proficient experimental (jazz) musicians, but not as brave genre voyagers as I used to.

The reason why I still highly regard (and rate) this album, though, is that its highlights are indeed worth highlighting. It begins with the dystopian and environmentalist The Silent Elk of Yesterday. Through mighty symphonies that build a dark atmosphere, female soprano singings and melodic black metal riffs, the band leaves its dystopian thoughts on the overly predatory behavior of men. Happily, there's none of that "lo-fi" and "anti-technical" bs common to black metal, so don't be afraid of sh***y brutality. Sweet guitar solo. I recommend watching the music video, the propositional (satirical, most likely) cheesiness of black metal tropes such as evil Satanic men singing in boreal forests and solos so melodic the guitarist literally is set ablaze. "The deer shoot back" is the emblematic line that characterizes the song.

Meteorite Showers is a delicious retro track that features a swing-revival core (sprinkled with various midsections from bossa nova to circus music) that'll probably stick in your mind (it did on mine), followed by a doo- wop one. The doo-wop is state-of-art: rhythm, vocal harmonies, 50s American accent, singing style, upright bass solo, all done terrifically.

The Bounty Hunter is where their Latin jazz excels. Using it as core, there are various different styles structured upon it, all of them sound fantastic when syncretized.

A Very Intense Battle is the lo-fi evil black metal tool in the shed, atmospheric, virulent, and very intense. What Deers May Come is a meditative, atmospheric Balkanic traditional folk music. This is where both the didjeridu (Australian horn) and djembe (African percussion) joins several other instruments to create the resonating ambience.

There is almost eight instruments for every musician and I could identify at least nine genres here. In conclusion, there is a considerable collection of diversity in BUCK FEVER, all played surprisingly well. Not for the faint of heart, lovers of slow tempo, or stillness adorers. Instead, I recommend for anyone who wants to listen to new, different stuff - stuff that morphs into completely different shapes repeatedly, and people who want to get into Avant-prog without hopping into stuff way too weird right away. The album is available on YouTube for anyone who wants to do test-drive.

 Szobel by SZOBEL, HERMANN album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.49 | 7 ratings

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Szobel
Hermann Szobel RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

5 stars For me this is one of the most incredible stories I've ever heard when it comes to the world of music and in particular Jazz/ Fusion. The Laser's Edge re-issued this one and in my opinion it's well worth quoting a lot of the liner notes provided. Hermann Szobel flew to New York City from his home in Vienna, Austria by himself as a sixteen year old. Walking into "The Hit Factory" he stated in broken English "My name is Hermann Szobel and I'm the greatest pianist you've ever heard." Everyone who was there was stunned by this brash statement and among those there were Roberta Flack and bassist Anthony Jackson. Of course they asked him to sit down at the piano and play. "Well, the stunned silence of disbelief before the performance turned to sheer amazement when everyone heard the music that was pouring forth from him."

His mission was to create complex instrumental music that no one had heard before, and to become a star doing it. Hermann was a big fan of WEATHER REPORT, MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA and FRANK ZAPPA but wanted to infuse that style with a European modernist sound, particularly that of Martial Solal, the brilliant French pianist whom he adored. They were able to get some incredibly talented people on board to play with him because after hearing some of his music they just wanted to be a part of this project. His music was so challenging, so technical and emotional. Russian Vadim Vyadro played sax and clarinet, Dave Samuels played vibes, marimba and percussion, Bob Goldman on drums and Michael Visceglia on bass. Clive Davis, President of Arista Records signed Hermann to his label and the band went to work practicing together, then some gigs were set up in clubs around New York City.

Legendary Producer Eddie Kramer who had worked with Hendrix was brought in to jump-start the process and the album was recorded at the "Record Plant" studios in 1975. One important fact I haven't mentioned yet is that his uncle was Bill Graham that legendary promoter who happened to be his mom's brother. Obviously that opened some doors as well. And how about that album cover with Hermann on it and that majestic building "The Flatiron Building" which was built in 1902. The building and the music are both timeless and marvels to see and hear.

Unfortunately Hermann was very demanding and brash and got into it with Clive and also his fellow musicians. He got impatient with playing clubs and after Clive gave him some career advise about being patient Hermann stood up and slammed his hand on Davis' desk and said "I will not! I want to open for the MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA at Carnegie Hall! Nothing else will do. I will not play small clubs anymore." The bass player packed up and left after an altercation with Szobel and that was the last professional day for Hermann as Arista pulled the plug on the project and Szobel went back to Europe. As far as we know he quit music completely and lived off of an allowance his mom would send to him frequently until even she lost track of where he was. It is still unknown to this day where he is. What a story! What an album!

"Mr. Softee" opens with sparse piano melodies before a dark atmosphere arrives before a minute as the sax joins the piano. Suddenly outbursts of vibes start to come and go contrasted with the piano before drums and full sound arrive 2 minutes in. Love the drum work here as sax, piano and bass help out. The tempo continues to shift and check out the Funk before 4 1/2 minutes. The sax is ripping it up then more outbursts of vibes which brings Zappa to mind each time on this song.

"The Szuite" is the longest track at 12 1/2 minutes. And oh man check out the piano in the intro! Oh my! Drums and sax help out then we get a calm as the bass takes over with plenty of atmosphere. The sax kicks in after 1 1/2 minutes with drums then piano as it builds. Love the dissonant sax here. Another calm before 3 1/2 minutes then the sax returns after 4 minutes before it becomes chaotic with uptempo piano and drum work. Vibes follow then it kicks in hard. We get a calm with discordant piano after 5 minutes then the tempo picks up 7 minutes in as the drums and piano lead the way. Sax follows. How good is this! So impressive as they rip it up until another calm arrives after 8 1/2 minutes with piano only then the clarinet and bass join in. Love the section 9 1/2 minutes in as the drums arrive. A change before 11 minutes as it becomes uptempo and complex with sounds flying all over the place. So it seems. Piano to the fore at 12 minutes then it starts to wind down to the end.

"Between 7 & 11" opens with bass and it sounds amazing as drums and piano join in. This is jazzy and uptempo. What a display of talent right here. It settles down after a minute. It's piano only after 3 minutes but drums and bass kick in quickly as it becomes uptempo again. Sax will eventually join in as well. Man such a complex and impressive track.

"Transcendental Floss" opens with piano and drums as the sax joins in. Again this is uptempo and complex. A calm with sparse piano after 2 minutes. Relaxed sax joins in as well then drums and bass before 3 minutes. So good! I could listen to this on a loop. It will settle with piano after 5 1/2 minutes as the drums, sax and bass return quickly once again.

"New York City, 6 AM" is my favourite song on here. It opens with atmosphere and vibes in this experimental intro where sounds echo. A solo bass line arrives before 1 1/2 minutes and is repeated as the piano joins in along with clashing cymbals. I like how this is building. Reminds me of MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA here. Clarinet after 4 minutes and it sounds amazing when it starts to cry out over the bass, drums and piano.

What else can I say but track this down! Yes it's complex but it's a warm complexity. I was surprised to see this under Avant here as for me this is Jazz/ Fusion 101, but to be fair while I was looking around at the many opinions I see that many mention Avant/ Jazz so what do I know. Haha.

 Madonnawhore by DRIVER, TOBY album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.58 | 14 ratings

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Madonnawhore
Toby Driver RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Prog-jester
Prog Reviewer

5 stars This must be Toby's best record since "Dowsing...", I kid you not. Intricate and gentle, filled with nuances, a kind of record where silence in between the chords and melodies means as much, if more. It flows naturally, creating this beaituful feeling of bliss with a hint of disturbia thrown in. Just enough to keep you awake.

Imagine later-day TALK TALK covering later-day SCOTT WALKER... wait, no, take KING CRIMSON's "Islands" and make it even more mellow AND creepy... wait, not exactly. Avant-AOR? Jazz-slowcore? Don't know, don't care - just a great and inspired material fromone of the most innovative musicians of our time. This is how pop music should be like in XXIth century

 Armed Observation by DOCTOR NERVE album cover Studio Album, 1987
4.30 | 14 ratings

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Armed Observation
Doctor Nerve RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Progfan97402

5 stars Found a used LP copy of this in a nearby Eugene, Oregon record store, and it really blew me away! I've been aware of Doctor Nerve since 1996, seen them described as something like "For those who no longer find Henry Cow challenging enough". I wouldn't say that, but it's still a wonderful and challenging listen like all the best in RIO. Armed Observation came out in 1987, on Cuneiform Records, a label which RIO seems to be a specialty (and it's nice to see Cuneiform Records is still around cranking out goodies). I remembered 1987 very well, being 14/15 that year. Mainstream music was pretty much a wasteland, you only needed to turn on to MTV or local rock station and get inundated with cheesy hair metal or synth pop. Debbie Gibson and Tiffany released their debuts, and Whitney Houston released her second album, which was equally popular as her debut. If, in the prog world, the best you can do is Big Generator by Yes, you're in trouble (Big Generator was a disjointed mess, and if you enjoyed 90125, you know that Big Generator just wasn't up to snuff). And of course Genesis still riding high from the previous year's Invisible Touch (but then Genesis hadn't really been prog since about the time Steve Hackett left, although you could argue about parts of Duke, though). Anyways, Armed Observation is just what I needed to hear from a 1987 release! Really twisted jazz-influenced RIO, that at times bring to mind the instrumental Zappa and Gentle Giant, both at their most "weird". The King Crimson influence has itself felt towards the end of the album with Fripp-like guitar. What I really love is the jazz approach. In the 1980s there was just way too much fuzak and smooth jazz infecting easy listening radio stations, and you can tell these guys wanted absolutely nothing to do with that, going for more of a late '60s/early '70s jazz influence. There's also a reminder of how Univers Zero may have ended up like if they were more jazz rock inclined. RIO is a genre that I don't always dig, as there is just way too much nonsense and messing about (too many groups trying to be "weird" for "weird's sake"), but I know good RIO when I hear it, and Doctor Nerve is one of those. This is just some crazy and demented stuff. The one Zappa song this album reminds me of is "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" from Weasels Ripped My Flesh, which was clearly Zappa going full-on RIO before it ever existed! I also really appreciate that Doctor Nerve avoided synthesizers like the plague, as much as I enjoy the sounds of synths, you have to bear in mind this was 1987, and pretty dreadful digital synths were the rule of the day, and these guys clearly wanted nothing to do with that. So much '80s music ended up dated, and these guys avoided those dreaded '80s production tricks that dated so much of the music of the era badly. I can see why this music was called "Rock in Opposition" (I realize the name was coined by Chris Cutler for some 1978 music festivals featuring Henry Cow and similarly like- minded bands), as it was truly "in opposition" to what was popular, where they refused to dumb-down their music to follow fads. Anyways, Armed Observation is truly one of the best albums I have heard from the 1980s and if the description sounds great to you, this is a required album in your collection!
 The Road: Volume 6 - Stockholm & G÷teborg (40th Anniversary Boxset) by HENRY COW album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2008
3.81 | 20 ratings

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The Road: Volume 6 - Stockholm & G÷teborg (40th Anniversary Boxset)
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Walkscore

3 stars Erk Gah!

A wonderful archive of their live concerts in the late 70s, this album is a must-have for Henry Cow fans. This album is volume 6 in the 10-CD 'The Road' box set. It was simultaneously released on its own on the strength of its excellent sound quality, having been recorded by Sveriges Radio (the Swedish equivalent to Radio Bremen, or perhaps the BBC, known for their excellent recordings). This being Henry Cow, a lot of the material here is improvised free, which sometimes works very well and sometimes does not. The tracks labelled "Stockholm" and "Goteborg" are improvisations named after the cities where they were recorded. These are, like their other improvs, mixed but of interest. Other great tracks here include the wonderful version of "Ottawa Song" and "The March", which work very well. But the real gems here, and the prime reason for getting this collection, are the full version of "Erk Gah (Hold to the Zero Burn)", the Tim Hodgkinson composition that would have made it onto the next Henry Cow album after Western Culture if they had remained together, and their cover of Phil Ochs' song "No More Songs". "Erk Gah" is most similar to Hodgkinson's pieces on "In Praise of Learning" (my favourite Henry Cow album), with Dagmar Krause singing throughout. The composition is very angular, with many harmonic leaps and odd time signatures, and it is a major accomplishment that Krause is able to sing it so well! The track is full of tension, with many quiet parts, sometimes interrupted by loud fast bursts, and flows directly into another Hodgkinson composition "A Bridge to Ruins" which acts as a natural ending to this wonderful quirky piece. Definitely difficult listening in the RIO mode, but much (but not all) of its is very musical, or at least very innovative. "No More Songs", meanwhile, is very straightforward. I have always thought this one of Phil Ochs' best songs, and while Henry Cow/Krause generally play it straight their interpretation lends additional emotional weight. I really like Krause's singing, and she does a great job with this. These two pieces, and "Ottawa Song" and "The March", are the tracks I have found most rewarding on repeated listens. Thinking of a rating, though, I have to admit the excellent pieces take up less than half of the 63 minutes that make up this release. Like their album "Concerts" the improvs take up the majority of actual time, and they are not something one will want to listen to over and over. Across the entire album, I rate the average quality around 7.3 out of 10, which places this within the 3 PA stars realm. But those two/four tracks I mentioned make it absolutely essential for true fans. Of course, if you are a die-hard Henry Cow fan, you will want to get the entire 10-CD The Road box. But if you are not ready to commit to that, but liked "In Praise of Learning" and "Western Culture", then this album would be a natural follow-up.

 Concerts by HENRY COW album cover Live, 1976
3.62 | 57 ratings

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Concerts
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Walkscore

3 stars Mix of bliss and out-there...

Concerts was released in the late 70s and contains live tracks from a number of different tours between 1973 and 1975. Because of this, it features a number of different Henry Cow lineups, including both instrumental lineups and the line-up with Dagmar Krause on vocals. The music is in turn equally varied. The first track, a 22-minute medley of some of their best tunes to 1975 (but also including an interesting cover of "Gloria Gloom", the Matching Mole song), is the one with Dagmar Krause on vocals. It is awesome, and the main reason for getting this box set. I really like Krause's vocals, and In Praise of Learning (the album featuring Krause) is my favourite Henry Cow album. There is an odd feature of this recording, in that for the first few minutes, only the drums, bass and electric piano are in the recording, after which all of a sudden (as if someone flicked a switch on the mixer after realizing their mistake) the guitar and woodwinds kick in. The second track combines "Bad Alchemy" and Robert Wyatt's "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road" (no 1), with Robert Wyatt guesting on vocals. Another great track, and a great archive as Wyatt did not play live very often at all. The third track is a live version of "Ruins", the instrumental from the album Unrest. This is pretty good too. But that is where the bliss ends and the out-there music starts. The last two tracks on the first CD involve two improvisations from Groningen in 1974, aptly titled "Groningen" (and "Groningen Again"). These are pretty difficult listening, and not something most will want to spend time listening to more than once. They don't really go anywhere, and while yes they add diversity, I am not sure most would consider them to be very musical. The second CD contains all instrumentals, including two improvs played by the instrumental line-ups, as well as three tracks recorded in studio at the Manor in 1973 and original released on the "Greasy Truckers" compilation. Two of these studio tracks are about as avant as avant-garde gets, a collection of odd noises, while the last ("Keeping Warm in Winter" contains slightly more traditional sax/clarinet solos followed by a more musical piano-led ending with some nice guitar effects. The second CD opens, however, with a quiet and building improv aptly itled "Oslo" which has some very nice sections, even some short beautiful parts, although at over 25 minutes it could test the average listener's patience. The CD ends with an improv "Udine" (recorded in Udine, Italy, in 1975) that is somewhat similar to the Groningen improvs, if perhaps more lively. A great archive, this double-CD set is obviously a must-have for Henry Cow fans. While I like improvised music, I don't think the improvs here are nearly as successful as the more structured pieces. For me, it is the opening medley that is the highlight, but it is so good it makes it worth seeking out this collection. On balance (which averages across all tracks and takes into account every minute), I give this set 6.7 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 3 PA stars.

 In Praise Of Learning by HENRY COW album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.96 | 165 ratings

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In Praise Of Learning
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Walkscore

4 stars My Favourite Cow.

This album is different from other Henry Cow albums in having Dagmar Krause provide vocals, while other members of Slapp Happy also contributed (Slapp Happy agreed to join/'merge' with Henry Cow for this album and their tour, with Henry Cow contributing to Slapp Happy's album Desperate Straights. Dagmar Krause would for a while join Henry Cow as a full member). In Praise of Learning thus feels very different, with the emphasis for the first time on singing and words. While I love instrumental music, I think it works very well here, and pushes the quality here above the rest of the Cow discography. Dagmar Krause's singing style is very unique, simultaneously grating and beautiful. But regardless of what one thinks, you can't help but listen to her. The album is anchored by two of Cow's very best compositions, Tim Hodgkinson's "Living in the Heart of the Beast" and "Beautiful as the Moon, Terrible as an Army with Banners" written by Fred Frith and Chris Cutler. These take up the vast majority of the album. In between these epics are shorter pieces. The opening track, "War" (written by Slap Happy members Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad) is fantastic, a proto-punk RIO anti-war anthem. Awesome song. Unfortunately, neither Henry Cow, nor even Slapp Happy, would ever create another track with the same punch. The two remaining tracks, "The Long March" and "Morning Star" seem more like filler, but in fact are also quite unique innovative pieces, rounding out (and in the case of "Morning Star" closing) the album. Even to this day, I don't think there is anything quite like this album. I wholeheartedly recommend it. I give it 8.8 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to high 4 PA stars. Their best work.

 Jazz From Hell by ZAPPA, FRANK album cover Studio Album, 1986
3.44 | 202 ratings

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Jazz From Hell
Frank Zappa RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Luqueasaur

2 stars Frank, honey, what's got into ya?: 4/10

JAZZ FROM HELL is an oddball in Frank Zappa's discography, and that says quite a lot considering the artist we're talking about. I'm not saying it sounds objectively strange - heck, that's Zappa's biggest quality -, but instead improper to the maestro we're discussing. Superficially, we have a Synclavier-ridden album with eight mechanical and eerie tracks. Even Zappa's most maddened, insane compositions and releases were inspired and meaningful - even his experimental rehearsals and templates (tracks such as Help I'm A Rock or The Return of the Magnet Man) or his most apparently nonsensical works (like the excerpts of the Uncle Meat movie). For as much as they are hard to digest, you can notice they have a soul and a purpose, not existing solemnly because it does. Not the same can be said about JAZZ FROM HELL.

This was the time Zappa had fully developed his "Synclavier abilities", going so forth as receiving an Emmy for his performance. Maybe because it was groundbreaking. Yeah, that must be it.

Musically, JAZZ FROM HELL gets weary quickly. The shock value & hype of discovering this is a Synclavier album through the first track, Night School, rapidly exhausts. Sure, the tracks are different from each other, but I found the unvaried Synclavier focus again and again and again insipid. If you manage to make it to St. Etienne, the hyping guitar solo will cheer the mood into some refreshing uniqueness.

Of course, the concept behind creating music solemnly with that proto-computer is newsworthy, but when I say his Synclavier sounds mechanic and soulless, I'm referring to the apparent indifference Zappa demonstrates with this record, through his forgettable and uninspired tracks. Something about St. Etienne also bugs me. It's not like Zappa has ever cared for releasing albums with some sort of connection between the songs, but placing a live guitar solo within a sea of Synclavier tracks just depicts that blatant disregard with the album. Honestly, I think Zappa didn't care about JAZZ FROM HELL. Perhaps his creativity honey depleted after so many years (four, to be precise) working with the Synclavier to the point he was left with little willpower to compose with.

Conclusively, I'd be really disappointed if I had spent my money on this. If this is Zappa's state-of-art Synclavier music, I'll be overwhelmed. It's rather obvious at this point, but I didn't dig the instrument's sonority.

I could easily put on YouTube "G-Spot Tornado" and with brevity understand what Zappa took 34 minutes to express. In fact, I think that's what you should do.

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