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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 £1000 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

4.59 | 49 ratings
HÄXAN
Art Zoyd
4.32 | 1285 ratings
HOT RATS
Zappa, Frank
4.32 | 758 ratings
THE GRAND WAZOO
Zappa, Frank
4.31 | 733 ratings
ONE SIZE FITS ALL
Zappa, Frank
4.63 | 33 ratings
TAIGA
OOIOO
4.88 | 19 ratings
JACKSON
Korekyojin
4.30 | 263 ratings
UZED
Univers Zero
4.30 | 226 ratings
SING TO GOD
Cardiacs
4.33 | 147 ratings
IN EXTREMIS
Thinking Plague
4.45 | 57 ratings
BOOK M
Secret Chiefs 3
4.27 | 324 ratings
CHOIRS OF THE EYE
Kayo Dot
4.41 | 56 ratings
DECEIT
This Heat
4.41 | 54 ratings
ZABRANJENO PLAKATIRATI
Buldozer
4.25 | 237 ratings
HERESIE
Univers Zero
4.26 | 185 ratings
WESTERN CULTURE
Henry Cow
4.44 | 44 ratings
Гуси-Лебеди / GEESE AND SWANS
Vezhlivyj Otkaz
4.24 | 204 ratings
A LITTLE MAN AND A HOUSE AND THE WHOLE WORLD WINDOW
Cardiacs
4.31 | 82 ratings
ON LAND AND IN THE SEA
Cardiacs
4.28 | 106 ratings
BARBARO (MA NON TROPPO)
Present
4.63 | 22 ratings
ERROR
Orejas Y La Lengua, Las

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

SHINUTOKIWA BETSU
Wha-Ha-Ha
LABIRINTO D'ACQUA
Yugen
PLATYPUS
Sotos
VÈCI
Combo FH

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Latest RIO/Avant-Prog Music Reviews


 Uncle Meat by ZAPPA, FRANK album cover Studio Album, 1969
4.08 | 424 ratings

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Uncle Meat
Frank Zappa RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Prog Leviathan
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Part Zappa-style orchestration, part Zappa-style improvisation, and part Zappa-style documentary, Uncle Meat is an odd combination of pleasures that entertains but seldom impresses. In a way, it's a reflective work by Zappa and the Mothers' musical career up to that point; here the noodling outnumbers the music, which when present is great, but you'll have to do a ton of bushwhacking through comedic or psychedelic or meditative scat to get there.

Uncle Meat opens with a bouncy and jaunty instrumental composition, indicative of Zappa's ambition as composer. It's a highlight, as is the extended and personality filled jamming of "Nine Types of Industrial Pollution," where Zappa's acoustic guitar just doesn't quit. "Dog Breath" is bottom heavy and playful, while "Golden Arches" is another showcase of precision and complex arrangement. Beyond that the tunes are fun but nothing outstanding. Scattered throughout are 10 - 15 minutes of recorded dialogue, on stage antics, and general Zappa weirdness. It's usually interesting but doesn't encourage the same kind of replay-ability that you'll get in other releases.

Bottom line, for me Uncle Meat is a lot of fun, but not an essential Zappa album. Start with something more musical, but definitely find your way here if you enjoy the Mothers' sound.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 3 - Lyrics/Vocals: 2 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

 Hopes and Fears by ART BEARS album cover Studio Album, 1978
3.71 | 75 ratings

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Hopes and Fears
Art Bears RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ALotOfBottle

4 stars Despite being labeled as an Art Bears album, Hopes and Fears was recorded mostly by Henry Cow. While working on what would turn out to be their swansong, Western Culture, the group witnessed a disagreement between its members. Lindsay Cooper, Georgie Born, and Tim Hodgkinson expressed that shorter vocal pieces are not representative of the band. The opposing fraction, consisting of Dagmar Krause, Fred Frith, and Chris Cutler, rented a studio with their own money, in which they recorded four tracks under the ambiguous signature of Art Bears. As a result, instrumental pieces recorded by Henry Cow, appeared on their album Western Culture, while the vocal material made it to Hopes and Fears.

Whilst Henry Cow's style is largely improvisation-based, the songs on Art Bears' debut album are far more organized and naturally shorter. The trio seeks inspiration from ancient works, in fact the release derives its title from a dialogue in Charion Sees Life, a satirical sketch by a Roman rhetorician and satirist Lucian of Samosata. Furthermore, the omnipresent eccentricity, reminiscent of Greek opera, plays an important role in the album's distinctive sound. Jazz methods are almost fully absent from Art Bears' style. Instead, the band focuses on the more song-oriented approach, which makes it easier for them to deliver their message. Neo-classical chamber music of Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Schoenberg has become a crucial element of Bears' music. A careful listener will detect influences of Eastern European folk traditions. Similarly to Henry Cow's works, Hopes And Fears is dripping with complex and intricate arrangements. Eclectic ideas, rich and elaborate musical layers, experimental musicianship, politically-charged lyrics, odd time signatures - the basic Cow ingredients are all there. And yet, the album sounds different than anything Henry Cow have produced. One might point out that comparison with Henry Cow's works is aimless, as the album was composed and recorded by the group's members. Let's not forget, however, that it was because of Frith's and Cutler's new concepts that the material from the Western Culture sessions was released on two separate albums.

Hopes and Fears opens with a cover of "On Suicide", a piece originally written by a neo-classical composer Hans Eisler, with Chris Cutler's lyrics. "The Dividing Line" starts out with an unsettling and sinister passage on Tim Hodgkinson's Farfisa organ. The track's initial mood remains present until the next song. "In Two Minds" begins with a catchy feminine folk motif, which dissolves into a more pop-sounding theme, which suggests the influence of The Who. In fact, Chris Cutler once remarked the impact that the band had on him and his contemporaries. "The Dance" owes a great deal to Eastern European folk traditions, with the interplay of Georgie Born's cello, Fred Frith's violin, and Lindsay Cooper's bassoon. "Riddle" revisits the familiar ominous passage, that first appeared on "The Dividing Line", with a similar feel that is again dark and disturbing. The album closes with "Piers", which has a menacing, and an almost ambient quality.

Art Bears' innovative, thought-provoking, and groundbreaking debut album marks a beginning of a new era for Rock In Opposition - post-Henry Cow, dark, sophisticated, and highly influenced by chamber music. Hopes and Fears is a difficult work of art that takes many listens to fully understand and comprehend. Complex, dark, demanding, fresh - these are just a few adjectives which perfectly describe the album. Recommended!

 Guns by CARDIACS album cover Studio Album, 1999
3.44 | 47 ratings

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Guns
Cardiacs RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Lewian

4 stars A number of people don't seem to love Guns as much as pretty much all other Cardiacs albums. Why is this? Certainly it's a fully valid Cardiacs album with excellent Cardiacs music on it.

Well, one explanation may be that the album is off to a somewhat weak start with Spell with a Shell, and people may not then be able to shake off the first impression. This comes with a fairly thin sound, a not particularly interesting rhythm, a single chord for quite some time and just two for some more time and some not particularly catchy singing from the first moment. To be fair, at some point it takes off into a more intense chorus and actually starts to make some sense.

Anyway, from then on things go uphill. With There's Good Cud the album certainly hasn't yet reached the peak. It's a fast and hard rocking punk orgy which will appeal to headbangers. Wind and Rain is Cold is the first highlight, more folky and poetic, with typical Cardiacs theatre spirit and some rare but great and dreamy Sarah Smith vocals; she returned for this album and is extremely welcome. Cry Wet Smile Day is again rocking harder and has one of these iconic crowd singing choruses, ah, the choruses! You want to join in so much but it's not that easy. OK, then Jitterbug (junior is a). This starts like a typical energetic Cardiacs song and then from the 3 minute mark get caught in a strange slow outworldly succession of chords in spacey sound over which Tim's voice meanders around, for almost 5 minutes. Depending on your mood this may be very annoying or genius; I'd be interested in whether anybody has followed this often enough to know exactly where it's going in the next moment, this is probably a half life's project. Sleep All Eyes Open is another fast rocker; nice how they already start fast and then give you the feeling of ever getting faster, wait, there's some illusion somewhere in it, like Escher's stairs that go upwards all the time. Come Back Clammy Lammy is again fast and quite straight for a Cardiacs song. It has another addictive crowd chorus but the Cardiacs can be accused of recycling some of their own older ideas in places (also in the odd other song).

The band then calms down a bit; Clean That Evil Mud Out Of Your Soul doesn't go for speed generally, although it has a weird and fast guitar melody in its instrumental bridges, but also they wind it down at some moments, this is melodic and rich in contrasts. Ain't He Messy Though is also about the melody and the chords, it's very nicely crafted with the typical twists, a strong keyboards sound and some very nice sax by Sarah.

Then Signs, which alone is strong enough to justify buying Guns; it's my no. 2 favourite Cardiacs song (behind Big Ship) and has the most memorable and intense chorus of them all, which is most effectively build on some very calm and vulnerable almost standing still ballad parts in between. I can listen to just this song for ages.

Song of a Dead Pest is a rather straight keyboard oriented melodic song, which sounds rather uplifting and relaxed, in stark contrast to its title and the lyrics. Will Bleed Amen is again a fast and hard finale with once more fascinating melodic turns. Attached to it is an epilogue that has Tim singing to the organ, leading up to a closure by the full band.

Perhaps I shouldn't have written that much on the individual songs, ultimately it's the Cardiacs and they totally defy description. Anyway, overall this has developed into something pretty strong again. OK, in the context of the Cardiacs universe it may not be seen as one of their peaks and there are some self citations in this one, and also (as usual) one can criticise the mix at times. On the other hand, when it comes to memorable addictive (but still twisted) melodies and choruses, Guns is second to pretty much no other Cardiacs album, with some real crackers on it, notably the stunning Signs. So this is the real deal, not some kind of second rate album, just if you test-listen to it, don't start in the beginning.

Get well soon, Tim, you're missed!

 Ambassadors of Good Health and Clean Living by FRENCH TV album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.94 | 14 ratings

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Ambassadors of Good Health and Clean Living
French TV RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by DamoXt7942
Forum & Site Admin Group RIO/Avant/Zeuhl & Neo Teams

4 stars One of avantgarde progressive rock veterans FRENCH TV's newest album has hit me completely. No difficult word nor extensive stretch needed but combinations of delightful instrumental bullets launched in the whole production.

Each phrases with complicated rhythms and massive sound-based gestural power cannot be created with eccentric instruments but with a simple formation like a guitar, a bass, drums, percussion, a synthesizer, or a keyboard ... such a basic rock combo style. The frontman and the bassist Mike has created sound elements with lots of addictive and sensational tonic explosions frankly inspired by avantgarde progressive vanguards like Zappa. Every single sound bullet is impressive and enjoyable, not difficult to digest at all, amazingly.

We can get immersed in their mazy crazy soundgarden, where nobody knows what would pop up in succession. Some synthesized sound effects are pretty effective for every pleasure song (just like "Gee, I Wish We Had One'a Them Doomsday Machines" ... exactly like a paranoiac sound hotchpotch rushing out of a treasure box meh). Sometimes dynamically and sometimes sensitively their magical mystery tour goes forward ... as if we would stumble upon quite a few mysterious obscure spots here and there. And no painful accident nor serious incident would not come on ... through their cool and clean plays.

Sorry for my tough-to-understand words but their mystic soundscape can get understandable just the moment you listen to this terrific album. ;)

 Relaps by UNIVERS ZERO album cover Live, 2009
4.58 | 21 ratings

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Relaps
Univers Zero RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE Team

5 stars Sallying forth through the bleak years of the mid-80s, UNIVERS ZERO forged ahead without compromise dishing out perhaps the most daring music that borders on sheer temerity. The band had a few lineup changes during the years of 1984-86 from which these eight tracks were picked and we are treated to some of the most turbulent and tumultuous recordings of the band that couldn't have been more against the grain in one of the least friendly decades for overtly complex and brooding progressive music that not only went where no band had gone before but did it with an imperious mien that reverberates throughout the decades holding up well after the fact. At the time however, the band was holding their own on their rocky road through the 80s as heard on RELAPS their second live release that only hit the hands of consumers in 2009, a good twenty years plus after these recordings were put to tape and then put under lock and key.

Live albums rarely do it for me like the studio counterparts but i have to say that this second live release RELAPS from the progressive avant-garde chamber music gods UNIVERS ZERO blows the roof off the house! This album was recorded at various venues in Germany and Belgium between the years 1984-86 and captures some of the most stunning magic of this great band displaying their finesse and powerful sonic firestorms in full fury proving that they are no mere studio band spending countless hours just putting sounds to tape without a clue of how to reproduce them. These guys are seriously gifted musicians who have all the chops to match the studio prowess AND exceed it. The fact that they can continually pump this out in a live setting and improvise free-style when the moment dictates also boggles the mind in just how proficient and dedicated the members of this band are. This is one of those rare live albums that actually surpasses any expectations of what i could hope for and deliver the goods and actually not even mind the 70 minutes plus of playing time. It's that phenomenal.

This album covers material from the albums "Uzed" ("L'étrange Mixture Du Docteur Schwartz" [2 versions that bookmark the album], "Présage", "Parade and Emanations") and "Heatwave" (title track and the extraordinary 18:10 "The Funeral Plain.") There is also a near four minute track "Ligne Claire" that is only found on this album. The music is, of course, their usual lineup of drums, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, bass, keyboards, cello, electric guitar, violin, viola and keyboards although the musical ingredients vary according to the period. The music on RELAPS is simply perfectly delivered and you'd be hard pressed to even know this is a live album except for the audience reaction at the end of tracks. The production is crystal clear and amazingly clean for several live 80s venues where who-knows-what can possibly go wrong and the band is absolutely flawless in the musical delivery.

Although i can't profess to know the band's canon note for note, i can say that this music in all its complexity sounds like it is performed in the most logical manner, meaning it is imperceptible if mistakes are being made. UNIVERS ZERO and the Rock In Opposition and avant-prog bands of the era didn't banish patterns within music, they simply or complexly rather, created new ones hitherto unexplored. These patterns of music sound exquisitely logical once heard but to create such unfamiliar forms is the true definition of music magic in my opinion. EVERYTHING works on this one. The compositions, the pacing, the timbres, the use of echoes, the mixing of the instruments and most of all the dark heavyheartedness that just oozes with dispirited melancholy and elegiac lament. This is simply in the top tier of UNIVERS ZERO recordings and one that should not be missed for true fans of this sombre musical chimera.

 The Road: Volumes 1-5 (40th Anniversary Box Set) by HENRY COW album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2009
4.62 | 22 ratings

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The Road: Volumes 1-5 (40th Anniversary Box Set)
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ALotOfBottle

5 stars After the breakup of Henry Cow in 1978, the musicians went their own way. The same year, Chris Cutler, the band's drummer and its most politically-involved member, founded an independent record label, Recommended Records. At the break of the new century, Cutler mentioned at one point that he was planning a compilation of Cow's previously unreleased live recordings, which resulted in numerous rumors around the internet. Several years later, in 2009, Recommended Records released the long-awaited 40th Anniversary Box Set. The Road: Volumes 1-5 is the first part of the set.

For a band with a musical vision as inventive and complex as that of Henry Cow, the recording studio was without a doubt the most comfortable environment, opening a new plethora of technical possibilities, such as overdubbing, pre-recorded tape effects, and electronic sounds. And yet, as opposed to many bands whose style relies heavily on studio equipment, Henry Cow display an incredibly high amount of confidence and knowhow in a live situation.

Disc 1, entitled Beginnings, comprises recordings from the Legend period, with Geoff Leigh still a full-time member of the quintet. The overall style presented on this album could really be classified as the Canterbury sound. It opens with "Pre-Teenbeat", a composition in two parts, and is followed by two vocal pieces, which had never been released on any album. These flaunt the influence of bands such as Soft Machine, Caravan or even Matching Mole, with fuzz organ very much in the vein of Mike Ratledge, Dave Sinclair or Dave Stewart. Next come the pieces from Henry Cow's debut album. Tim Hodgkinson's composition "Amygdala Extract" and Fred Frith's "Teenbeat" perfectly showcase the group's well-rehearsed sound characterized by near-flawless musicianship and equal input from all of the members. They are not exactly the same tracks as those on the original album, but they employ the main themes and ideas of the source pieces. "Teenbeat" features Dave Stewart, the keyboardist of Egg and Hatfield and the North, who provides light celeste touches and participates in a conversation in the background. The live-cut version of "Citizen King" is astonishingly similar to the studio version and is followed by "Nirvana For Moles" (originally released as "Nirvana For Mice"). "With the Yellow Half Moon and Blue Star" consists of eight parts and is by far the most experimental track of the box set. It also takes the themes of the original piece as the basis for improvisation. The disc closes with the three-part "Guider Tells of Silent Airborne Machine".

Disc 2 comes from the Unrest era, with Lindsay Cooper onboard. Geoff Leigh left the group during their tour of the Netherlands as he could not stand the tension in the band and was unable to keep up with the touring schedule. "Introduction", with a dark, Stravinsky-like feel, quickly transforms into a contrastingly bright piece "Ruins I". As one goes on listening, one is likely to discover that the sudden yet natural changes in pace and mood are very common. The following track, "Half Asleep, Half Awake", composed by John Greaves, is built around a catchy motif. The "Ruins" theme returns in "Ruins II", quickly resolving into "Heron Shower Over Hamburg" (originally released as "Bittern Storm Over Ulm"). This track showcases Fred Frith's signature improvisational style, relying on his distinctive fuzz guitar sound. "Halsteren", which was recorded in Halsteren in the Netherlands (naming a live-cut piece after the city it was recorded in is common practice), uses the opening passage of "Living in the Heart of the Beast". Putting them in different musical landscapes really shows its modal ambiguity. "Halsteren" is divided into seventeen segments, such as "Extension", "First Suspension" or "Solo Extension". The rest of the disc is occupied by Henry Cow's 13-minute political statement "Living in the Heart of the Beast", with the line-up featuring vocalist Dagmar Krause. Robert Wyatt, the Canterbury scene pioneer and mastermind, provides his unique vocals for this piece. The recording quality on this one is slightly less perfect than on the previous tracks, but is nonetheless true to the impressive studio version.

Disc 3 was recorded in Hamburg. Once again, the band name some of their tracks by transforming recognizable phrases (for instance, "Nirvana For Rabbits" instead of "Nirvana For Mice"). They feel incredibly comfortable in the odd time signatures. "Ottawa Song", "Twilight Bridge", and "Gloria Gloom" are Robert Wyatt's compositions (the last one comes from Matching Mole's politically-charged Little Red Record). These are less reliant on improvisation and are kept in a more "popular" song convention. "Hamburg" is an ambient piece divided into five parts with "Red Noise 10" in between them. Next, the theme of "Beautiful As The Moon" comes back, followed by "A Heart". Robert Wyatt's input comes back with "Little Red Riding Hood Hits The Road", which comes from his memorable solo album Rock Bottom. The disc is closed by a loud jam on Soft Machine's 1968 hit "We Did It Again", with Wyatt singing.

Discs 4 and 5 are almost entirely occupied by a lengthy ambient improvisation "Trondheim". The piece might appear as aimless noodlings, but an experienced listener will discover that it goes far beyond that. It should really be regarded as a thought-provoking provocation. Its single-layered flatness and sterility expressed by improvised dissonant parts plays an important psychological role. Even an accurate description of every single note on "Trondheim" will not properly carry the musical metaphor. The subjective meaning of time plays a crucial role here. Towards the end, it becomes a little more ariose. The box is closed by "March", which brings in a repetative melodic sequence.

The Road: Volumes 1-5 presents numerous different periods of Henry Cow's existence; from atonal ambient workouts to fast-paced jazz-rock jams to mellow, melodic, Canterbury-style pieces. Henry Cow was without a doubt a unique band and despite its dynamic, ever-changing style, two elements remained the same: excellent musicianship and incredibly clever musical detailing. Each listen to any of their works reveals many new factors and qualities. This box set is not only a very important historical document, but also an exceedingly addictive listening experience.

 L'Enfant et la Mènure by INSONAR album cover Studio Album, 2013
3.00 | 1 ratings

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L'Enfant et la Mènure
InSonar RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by UMUR
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

— First review of this album —
3 stars "L'Enfant et le M'nure" is a double album release by Italian avant garde artist InSonar. The album was released through Lizard Records (in co-operation with dEN Records) in June 2013. "L'Enfant et le M'nure" was released both as a "stand alone" double album release, but also as a split box set release with "Bath Salts (2013" (also a double album release) by fellow Italian avant garde act NichelOdeon. InSonar is a project created by Claudio Milano and Marco Tuppo (Flag Of Estonia) featuring 62 musicians from 5 continents. Among others artists like Trey Gunn & Pat Mastellotto (King Crimson), Walter Calloni (P.F.M.), Nik Turner (Hawkwind), Paolo Tofani (Area) and Dana Colley (Morphine).

"L'Enfant et le M'nure" is a concept album about "childhood and the power of imagination". The album features both original tracks and cover versions of tracks by David Bowie/Brian Eno, The Velvet Underground, Tim Buckley and revisited Arias by Martini, Gounod and Giordano. "L'Enfant et le M'nure" features a 48 pages booklet with paintings by Marcello Bellina aka Berlikete (MorkObOt) and mosaics by Arend Wanderlust. So it's safe to say it's an ambitious and quite impressive package.

The music on the album is a combination of many musical styles with singer Claudio Milano in focus. His delivery is dramatic, experimental, and virtuosic. His vocal style is paatos filled/theatrical and he spans 7 octaves. Marco Tuppo is an electronic music artist. While the term avant garde is probably the most appropriate to describe the music on "L'Enfant et le M'nure", the tracks are for the most part relatively accessible (I say relatively, because some people will probably find this a great challenge to listen to both sonically and structurally) and a few are even instantly memorable with nice melodic themes (an example of that could be the prog folky parts of "L'Estasi di Santo Nessuno"). There's a strong ambient element on the album too (take a listen to the 12:53 minutes long "Dieci Bambini Cacao") and the music is generally very atmosperic although the dramatic theatrical element is omnipresent. The presence of Marco Tuppo is heard in the way ambient electronic elements are used throughout the album. There are also nods towards opera, classical and jazz in the music. The lyrics are mostly in the Italian language but the cover tracks are sung in English.

"L'Enfant et le M'nure" is a very well produced album and add to that the excellent musicianship and intriguing songwriting and you have a quality release right there. It's a rather challenging listen though and some of the voice experiments and the repetitive nature of some of the ambient tracks can be a bit hard on the ears if you're not accustomed to experimental ambient music. Some parts of the album have me thinking that those parts are interesting, but not necessarily an enjoyable listen. Fortunately most of the album is an enjoyable listen though and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

 My Secret Alphabet (with Nick Doyne-Ditmas) by HAYWARD, CHARLES album cover Studio Album, 1993
4.00 | 1 ratings

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My Secret Alphabet (with Nick Doyne-Ditmas)
Charles Hayward RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Lewian

— First review of this album —
4 stars "My Secret Alphabet" is a remarkable and unique album. One thing that is special about it is the overall structure, which develops from fairly straightforward songs with conventional drum rhythms over a very calm middle part with no drums at all to two longer and very experimental, probably improvised or improvisation-based tracks.

The first song, "Hilly Fields", is the most conventional song. It is a rather optimistic sounding song featuring Hayward as a drummer and colourful guitar and keyboards. Unfortunately the mix is not optimal and Doyne-Ditmas's bass is weaker than it should be (same in the next song). "Unearthing fossil fuels" is slower and somewhat less conventional with quite interesting keyboard sounds that flow around the melody, partly sound experiment and partly harmonic support, although it has a very memorable chorus. The bass part is good but again a bit too far in the background. The song ends in chaos mode but this finishes quickly for now. "November Building" has the best drums on the album, combined with a strong trombone, more crazy keyboard nuggets, more good but too muted bass and another memorable motif. All these are mainly sung by Hayward's unique deep calm pastoral voice, always a tiny bit slower than you'd expect.

With "Slow Air" the album enters a new phase. The drums are now over and things become slow. The track has vocals and a melody but relies on long spacey keyboard spheres and sound experiments. "Seventy Two, Trade White" goes on in a similar vein with slow keyboards, but the vocals are now gone. Hayward contributes some bell-like percussion, and overall it's still kind of harmonic despite the sound experiments. "Rumour is Mobile" is an instrumental based on a calm chord sequence of the acoustic guitar, over which we again have layers of sound exploration by keyboard and percussion. We're still mostly in harmonic territory. "Slim Pickens" is a short piece that stirs things up a bit. It has some rhythmic vocals, but these are hardly connected with the sprawling breathing background of sounds. "My Secret Alphabet" uses the same guitar sequence from "Rumour is Mobile", now with contemplative and sensitive singing; in the background there's again a jungle of sounds and some electronic rhythm. The last "song".

Finally the album goes into full avantgarde mode with two long mostly free pieces. "Thick Skin Paper Thin" has again some not exactly soothing vocals somewhere in between but by and large it is made of long slowly changing atmospheric sounds, something like a miniature (and somewhat less predictable) version of Tangerine Dream's "Zeit". "Outcomelt" has a monotonous timpani rhythm behind which there is a pulsating jungle from electronics, percussions, trombone and samples (I'd think there are some animal voices there), ending in a very last peaceful chord (sorry for the spoiler).

For somebody like me who likes this kind of atmospheric sound alchemy this is big fun. I also love Hayward's drums and voice, and I admire the fact that such an experimental avantgarde album can at the same time offer some harmony and the odd catchy tune. The way how the album lets the conventional beginning degenerate totally toward the end is very fascinating. Despite all the craziness the album is mostly tonal and not the very toughest of listening experiences. The whole thing is full of ideas and surprises. I think that the title "My Secret Alphabet" points to the fact that this is something of a systematic exploration of the range of things Hayward has in his pocket. I give it 4 stars but it scratches at the 5.

 Death By Water by YUGEN album cover Studio Album, 2016
3.93 | 49 ratings

BUY
Death By Water
Yugen RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Yugen assemble a small avant-prog army to unleash Death By Water, a journey that takes the listener through pulsating rhythms echoing from the borderlands of Zeuhl, unexpected moments of ambient placidity, and the occasional gentle folk guitar moment and visits yet further diverse territories in between. A particular treat is Der Schnee, on which Dalila Kayros' vocal performance puts the listener in mind of such voice-as-instrument works as can be found in the output of the Cocteau Twins or Bjork, and couples this with some of the most beautiful instrumental playing the album has to offer.

Avant-prog groups can sometimes get too caught up in the technicality and experimentalism of what they are doing, forgetting along the way to invest their compositions with emotional resonance. This isn't the case here, where Yugen offer an emotional journey just as intricate as their technical execution.

 Concerts by HENRY COW album cover Live, 1976
3.55 | 51 ratings

BUY
Concerts
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ALotOfBottle

3 stars 1976 was a very busy year in Henry Cow's career. The band had just released a fruit of their collaboration with a German avant-rock outfit Slapp Happy, In Praise Of Learning, and was busy touring western Europe (for nearly two years continously). At that time, Anthony Moore and Peter Belegvad left the project with Dagmar Krause becoming the lead vocalist of Henry Cow. The sextet got a chance to play alongside Robert Wyatt, who had just completed his newest album Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. Too busy to record an album, Henry Cow gathered all the worthwhile live material they had and released a double album Concerts.

The album consists of twenty two tracks on two LPs. Disc one starts out with a medley of "Beautiful as the Moon; Terrible as an Army With Banners", "Nirvana For Mice", Matching Mole's political statements "Ottawa Song" and "Gloria Gloom", and the reprise of "Beautiful as the Moon". Than come two pieces recorded with Robert Wyatt himself, "Bad Alchemy" and "Little Red Riding Hood Hits The Road", the second one coming from his memorable solo release Rock Bottom. After his unfortunate accident, Wyatt was unable to play drums, devoting fully to perfecting his signature vocals. Next, "Ruins", is a 16-minute jam over Henry Cow's piece from Unrest (a tune with the same title appeared on In Praise Of Learning, but that one was less than three minutes long)."Groningen" and "Groningen Reprise" are two improvisation-driven tracks, which close the first LP.

Side A of the second disc is fully occupied by an atonal, free-form piece "Oslo" with half-an-hour of disturbing, dissonant noodlings with Dagmar Krause moaning somewhere in the distant background. Side B comprises tracks from Greasy Truckers Live at Dingwall's Dancehall sessions (recorded a few months after their debut, Legend), which also included Camel, Gong, and Global Village Trucking Co. (a very interesting album, by the way). The five tracks are also fully improvised, but are far more entertaining than the aimless "Oslo". In fact, at moments I feel like they would not be out of place on Pink Floyd's Ummagumma.

Being a Henry Cow fan, I am fairly disappointed with Concerts. About 60% of the album is filled with aimless, time-consuming, atonal improvisation with only a few tiny diversions here and there. That is with the exception of most of the first disc. The tracks recorded with Robert Wyatt and the covers of Matching Mole's pieces are played with exceptional precision and a distinct sound of Henry Cow. The recording quality is very decent, particularly on the album-opening medley.

There is not very much to talk about regarding the instrumentalism on the album. Well, on the bigger part of the album. Apart from the tight musicianship that Henry Cow were renowned for, John Greaves' bass play (particularly on "Nirvana For Mice") has been a great revelation to me, as on the studio releases, he always seemed to stay on the second plan. Fred Frith's unique guitar style is as always spot-on and the multi-instrumentalist abilities of Tim Hodgkinson are really highlighted here. Lindsay Cooper's bassoon, oboe, and flute give the band a unique, chamber-like feel, which often provides a much-needed rest from tiring free-jazz work-outs.

All in all, Henry Cow's only official live album (excluding those released long after the band's departure) is a quintessence of what the group really was. Concerts could be divided into two basic track concepts: improvisational and organized. The first one quickly becomes quite dull, gloomy, and tiring, while the second one is aimed at presenting great amounts of musical know-how that the band had. So, the most adequate and balanced rating of the album is three stars. Recommended for fans of Henry Cow, but it is not the most representative work of the band.

Data cached

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Bands/Artists Country
1870 (MIL OCHOCIENTOS SETENTA) Mexico
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APPENDIX Slovakia
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BOX Multi-National
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BUILD United States
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CURLEW United States
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CHRIS CUTLER United Kingdom
RUBEN D'HERS Venezuela
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