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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 | 1492 ratings
HOT RATS
Zappa, Frank
4.32 | 881 ratings
THE GRAND WAZOO
Zappa, Frank
4.31 | 869 ratings
THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION: ONE SIZE FITS ALL
Zappa, Frank
4.35 | 230 ratings
WESTERN CULTURE
Henry Cow
4.33 | 172 ratings
IN EXTREMIS
Thinking Plague
4.50 | 54 ratings
TAIGA
OOIOO
4.28 | 277 ratings
HERESIE
Univers Zero
4.28 | 279 ratings
SING TO GOD
Cardiacs
4.27 | 308 ratings
UZED
Univers Zero
4.41 | 68 ratings
H─XAN
Art Zoyd
4.59 | 34 ratings
JACKSON
Korekyojinn
4.25 | 365 ratings
CHOIRS OF THE EYE
Kayo Dot
4.37 | 80 ratings
N║ 6
Present
4.25 | 270 ratings
M┼LTID
Samla Mammas Manna
4.49 | 43 ratings
LETTERS HOME
News From Babel
4.35 | 79 ratings
DECEIT
This Heat
4.35 | 77 ratings
BOOK M
Secret Chiefs 3
4.24 | 237 ratings
A LITTLE MAN AND A HOUSE AND THE WHOLE WORLD WINDOW
Cardiacs
4.29 | 109 ratings
ON LAND AND IN THE SEA
Cardiacs
4.41 | 52 ratings
SIRENS AND SILENCES / WORK RESUMED ON THE TOWER
News From Babel

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

SECONDE ERE
Xaal
LABIRINTO D'ACQUA
Yugen
FARLIG VANDRING
Panzerpappa
V╚CI
Combo FH

Latest RIO/Avant-Prog Music Reviews


 The Voice of Midnight by RESIDENTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2007
4.01 | 16 ratings

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The Voice of Midnight
The Residents RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

4 stars So, after a few fairly good albums, The Residents put out this album. 'The Voice of Midnight' tells the story of a boy named Nate (played and sung by Corey Rosen) who thinks The Sandman is out to kill him like The Sandman killed his father. He has a girlfriend named Claire (played by Gerry Lawler) who he alienates when she discovers he has feeling for a mannequin or a robot, not sure which, named Olympia (played by Carla Fabrizo). All of the actors, or players, worked with The Residents previously on 'River of Crime' and 'Tweedles'. Vocals are both sung and spoken, as in a play or drama.

The first track 'The Sandman' is the track that tells the backstory of this whole drama. The main character Nate, is telling his girlfriend Claire on the telephone, just what his problem is with The Sandman. The music in the background is quite chaotic and noisy as Nate gets frantic and calms down when he's not. There is a lot of noisy guitar in this track among other cacophony. Later, Nate sings, and his voice is vulnerable and nervous, like you would expect in this character. The music calms down here, but remains eerie and strange, with synths, guitar and strings providing instrumentals. The regular vocalist for The Residents provides some processed spooky vocals. The other characters sing/speak during their parts. The music gets dark and heavy at the end.

This first track, lasting over 8 minutes, is a good example of what to expect in this album. The music is definitely avant-prog, and goes along with the text and lyrics of the story. This was The Residents forte during this time of their long existence. Telling dramatic stories to music and spoken parts. Yes, the stories are strange, funny and just plain weird, but if they weren't, this wouldn't be The Residents. The albums of this era of the collective had, thank goodness, moved onto more developed music, where real instruments were involved, and not just the annoying amateur sounding synthesizers of their albums from the middle of their discography.

Now, here's a spoiler alert. The rest of this review deals with the story as it goes through the scenes, or tracks of this album. Remember, this is a story by The Residents, so consider this your warning. Some images can be disturbing.

In the next track 'Mental Decay', Nate is on a picnic with Claire and he writes her a poem to get on her good side. It's a stupid poem and Claire chides him for believing that The Sandman is out to get him. 'Claire's Response' is when she tells him to get lost and he tries to apologize but to no avail. 'In the Dark' tells how Nick's friend Brad calls him and tells him his apartment is on fire, but not to worry because Brad rescued all of his stuff in time and now Nick can live with him. Nick lives there and discovers that his Biology professor lives across the street, so he goes over to talk with him. In 'Professor Caligari' he talks to his professor and asks him about his daughter that lives upstairs that he spotted petting a white cat. In 'The Telescope' Nick buys a pocket telescope that he can use to spy on the professor's mysterious 'Daughter'. The Sandman entices him to go watch the girl with the white cat who he becomes obsessed with.

Later, in 'True Love' which lasts over 11 minutes, Nate receives an invitation from Olympia (which is the 'daughter's' name) to come to a party. Olympia sings him the song 'Beautiful Dreamer' with altered lyrics and with the melody changed to a minor key sounding really hypnotic and spooky. After the song, heavy and dark guitars play the altered melody, then a synthesized chorus sing the refrain. This part is actually quite clever. After that, things get really bizarre as the Sandman gets into Nate's head. My guess is that Nate gets memerized and hypnotized and sees the Sandman feeding his children eyeballs and thinks, 'Hey, they gotta eat too.' So all of this is to make him feel empathy for The Sandman and to lure him in.

'Seven Cats' tells how while Nate is watching Olympia through his telescope, she is not there one night but there are cats everywhere. The man that sold him the telescope is walking up the street and picks the lock on the professor's door. Nate goes over to stop him and finds Olympia's body on the floor without eyes and there is also a box that the person dropped that is full of eyeballs. He is also in some kind of laboratory with heads on the shelves and then he is captured by creeping seaweed.

In 'Catatonia', Nate has been captured by the police and they are questioning Claire as to why he was found in the professor's laboratory hugging a mannequin with a bunch of mannequin heads all over the ground. Meanwhile, in Nate's mind, all is not right as the Sandman continues to lull him to sleep. In 'The Proposal', it seems like all has returned to normal as Nate sees everyone celebrating his birthday, Claire is there and has forgiven him now that Nate is better and is ready to marry him. But the music and The Sandman's voice alludes to the fact that everything is not alright.

'The Tower' tells how Nate takes Claire to the top of a tower to watch the sunset. While there, Claire tells him she is pregnant and Nate goes crazy and says the babies belong to The Sandman. He tries to kill Claire claiming she slept with him while she pleads to him that it's not true. As he almost kills her, he looks down and sees The Sandman. As he goes to attack The Sandman, he goes over the railing of the tower and falls to his death.

'Epilogue' fast forwards to the future where Claire is talking to her children and tells them she is going out for a little while and she leaves them with her grandma, who proceeds to tell them the story of . . . . ''The Sandman.

Okay, just so you know, no one can tell a spooky story like The Residents, especially one that is as wacky as this. The album has plenty of odd melodies, sounds, and avant-prog-ness to keep everyone interested, but chances are, you will be entranced by the story. It's not their best, and after the first listen, it loses it's charm, but it's fun and interesting if nothing else, and might be a good Halloween story for you to share with your friends, that is, if you are into that kind of entertainment. But, everyone will probably just look at you funny. Oh well. There's always a place for us weirdoes, isn't there?

 Waka / Jawaka by ZAPPA, FRANK album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.93 | 470 ratings

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Waka / Jawaka
Frank Zappa RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

5 stars 'Waka/Jawaka', otherwise known as 'Another Hot Rats' album, is FZ's 4th solo album. It is comprised of 4 tracks, 2 are instrumental and 2 have vocals. It is a good example of FZ's jazz leanings and is one of my favorite FZ albums. Being that it was released along with other FZ jazz albums, it is considered the prelude to The Grand Wazoo line-up. Don't expect a lot of humor in this album, it is jazz oriented.

It starts out with the 17 minute jazz instrumental 'Big Swifty', which has it's distinctive theme bookending several improvised solos. On this studio version, it starts off with the theme that has alternates between several different time signatures, 7 / 8 then 6 / 8, with a 4 / 4 melody. It's not a very long theme, before we get into a keyboard solo, then a muted trumpet and guitar begin fighting it out with the keyboard, while the tricky meters continue in the background. The band featured here was by all means an improvisation band including Aynsley Dunbar on the drums who played with many greats like Jeff Beck, David Bowie, John Mayall and others (and who later left the band because Zappa had gotten to where he was writing every part and not allowing for enough improv, or at least that's what he claimed), Tony Duran on slide guitar who had played in Zappa's bands like the Mothers and Ruben and the Jets previously, George Duke on keys who everyone knows is a Funk Master and also played with Cannonball Adderly, Sal Marquez on trumpet who went on to play for Joe Sample and both Don and Dave Grusin, Alex Dmochowski (Erroneous) on Bass who was with Zappa on The Mothers albums and also played with John Mayall and FZ on guitar and percussion. If you are not into jazz improvisation, then you probably won't understand what is going on here, which is why so many people didn't understand what FZ was doing at the time. This takes up an entire side of the album.

Side two starts out with what is a satirical song titled 'Your Mouth'. It features Kris Petersen's only appearance with Zappa on vocals except for a passage in 'Waka/Jawaka' where she sings along with the horns, and it is very difficult to hear, in addition to the previous line up and also Joel Peskin on tenor sax and Mike Altschul on baritone sax and piccolo. Quite a line up for a song that only lasts a little over 3 minutes. It is, however, a straightforward, yet loaded blues/jazz number with several uncredited background singers on the choruses.

'It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal' is supposedly a song about hallucinations. It is one of the most surprising and interesting FZ songs out there in that it guests Jeff Simmons playing a Hawaiian guitar and doing vocals and 'Sneaky Pete' Kleinow, who has in bands for Jackson Browne and many others doing a crazy-awesome pedal steel guitar solo. It also features Janet Ferguson on vocals who worked with Frank on 'Burnt Weeny Sandwich'. This song has a country-lilt to it which makes it unique in FZ's repertoire. But just before it goes into that amazing pedal steel guitar solo, there is a very strange passage that sounds like it was spliced into the song, but it was in actuality recorded in real time, and it is a very strange meter that was very difficult for the musicians to finally get right. Many complained that it was impossible to play, but Frank insisted that if he could play it, then it was possible. They finally got it right and kept the result as the final product. Then, there's another strange passage again after the solo. This is a FZ song that has to be heard to be believed because of its uniqueness more than anything. This song always reminds me why I love FZ's music so much.

The last track, at over 11 minutes is the title track 'Waka/Jawaka'. This is another mostly improvised jazz instrumental. This one features a more melodic theme that is a lot easier to pick out, and is a more standard meter. Where 'Big Swifty' featured combined soloing and improvisation, this one is more soloing of one instrument at a time. This features Don Preston on the keyboards and mini Moog. The few vocals in this track are wordless and follow the trumpet in its solo starting at 6:32. This section must have been written out since the vocalists could sing right along with the trumpet. You get a horn solo, keyboard, then guitar, then trumpet, a short return to the theme, a drum solo and back to the theme again. After that, there is a variation to the theme, which is a very tricky passage where horns and flute play together.

This is an amazing album that serves as a testament to FZs skill as musician and band leader. It sits up there with some of the best jazz albums of its kind and signals what would be coming up in FZ's discography. This is an essential FZ album and all serious fans of Zappa should have and be familiar with it. It is also one of the true tests of who FZ's fans really are. Highly recommended, especially for progressive jazz lovers.

 Roxy: The Movie by ZAPPA, FRANK album cover DVD/Video, 2015
4.38 | 17 ratings

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Roxy: The Movie
Frank Zappa RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by fuxi
Prog Reviewer

5 stars The more I watch this blu-ray, the more I get the impression this has to be the best 1970s prog film of all. I can think of only a few rival films of classic prog bands at the top of their game. There's YESSONGS, which has terrible sound and far too many silly graphics. There's that live recording of PG-era Genesis you will find on YouTube, but the sound doesn't really match the images, so properly speaking it doesn't count. There's JETHRO TULL LIVE AT MSG 1978 but it's not very long and the editing is terrible: we hardly see Martin Barre, even when he is soloing his heart out. No, if you long to see an eclectic, avant-garde, jazzy and at times highly symphonic prog ensemble in full flight, ROXY THE MOVIE is the real deal! And let's not beat around the bush. Frank Zappa on lead guitar, vocals and occasional percussion; George Duke on keyboards and vocals; Napoleon Murphy Brock on sax and vocals; Ruth Underwood on vibraphone, marimba and other percussion; Tom Fowler on bass and Bruce Fowler on trombone; with both Ralph Humphrey and Chester Thompson on drums - well, together they give most of the classic British prog bands a run for their money. (And I say this as someone who grew up on Yes, Genesis & tutti quanti and who dearly loves them still.) Zappa's band are simply more accomplished, more virtuosic, more spontaneous AND more ecstatic than any other 1970s rock act. (Purely as multi-instrumentalists, perhaps only Gentle Giant come close, as the GENTLE GIANT ON THE BOX DVD will demonstrate, but the Giant never had the crazy audience interaction that Frank Zappa so clearly encourages.) Let's just face it. In spite of its technical deficiencies (e.g. why is the entire programme performed against a background of cheap silver paper?) this has to be the best possible recording of some of FZ's best music by (most likely) his most accomplished and most likeable band. Lovers of Zappa's classic ROXY AND ELSEWHERE album waited for decades to be able to watch this. A progressive rock masterpiece, no doubt about it.
 Lowlands by ZEVIOUS album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.88 | 5 ratings

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Lowlands
Zevious RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Since forming in 2007, Mike Eber (Smother Party), Jeff Eber (Dysrhythmia), and Johnny DeBlase (Sabbath Assembly, Many Arms) have sought to blur the lines between prog, jazz, and metal as Zevious. The band released their self-titled debut in 2008 which featured a more traditional acoustic sound and hinted at the compositional style the band was beginning to develop. Soon after, the band caught the attention of Cuneiform Records and released 'After The Air Raid' in 2009, abandoning the traditional sound of their first record for a more power-trio style involving louder volumes with a leaning toward melodic/polymetric compositions. The subsequent years marked a period of frequent touring and musical development for the band. In 2013 they released their second record for Cuneiform, 'Passing Through The Wall', which is where I first came across them, giving them a 5* review , saying that they wouldn't know what to do with 'a straight 4/4 time signature and verse/chorus number if it hit them over the head with a baseball bat.'

Well, nothing has changed, although since Cuneiform are no longer really releasing albums (still can't believe that a label as influential as they have had to drastically change their business model to survive), they have now moved on and for their latest album are signed with Nefarious Industries. The instrumental trio are still pushing that garage, metal, new wave underground mentality, but bringing that into line with fusion, jazz, RIO, doom, post rock and even trance to create something that is incredibly intense and powerful. It is as subtle as a sledgehammer, and really can cause headaches, but is also melodramatic and alluring. It is music which is compelling, bringing the listener in, shutting the door, and then bombarding them with sounds that feel almost as if they are part of a waterboarding experiment, yet even though the door is unlocked there is no desire to walk back out again. This isn't easy music to listen to, but by giving it the time it deserves the listener comes away having had an amazing experience.

 This Heat by THIS HEAT album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.99 | 61 ratings

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This Heat
This Heat RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars There aren't too many bands in modern history who are cited for single handedly planting as many seeds from which many genres and sub-genres arose throughout the years and decades that followed, but the English band THIS HEAT is almost universally accepted for having done so. This band was formed in 1976 London by three multi-instrumentalists who were feeling the change in the music scene as it shifted from the progressive rock world of the early 70s to a more punk oriented one that followed. And although not a punk band per se, this trio was at the forefront of this changing of the guards and co-existed with bands like the Sex Pistols during the same time frame. Whereas the punk rockers opted for simplifying their musical approach to garage rock simplicity that allowed for instant accessibility and connection, THIS HEAT on the other hand proved to take things to much more challenging levels and instead of rejecting the prog rock that came before, found ways to bridge it with similar elements of punk and take the strange union to even more experimental heights through shrewd tape loop and electronic manipulations.

The band arose when Gareth Williams (keyboards, guitar, bass, tapes, vocals) met Charles Hayward (keyboards, tapes, vocals and ex-drummer for Quiet Sun) and Charles Bullen (guitar, clarinet, viola, tapes, vocals) while working in a London record shop and made their acquaintances through their mutual admiration of music. After Williams proved himself to be a brilliant lyricist and insane bassist and keyboardist, the trio began to rehearse their strange new experiments which were inspired by various Krautrock bands like Can and Faust, the angular avant-prog of Henry Cow as well as musique concrŔte which inspired inventive tape-loop experimentation that found the band fascinated with random erroneously produced sounds that they were generating through their inexperience. The band also fostered a great admiration for the reggae and ska producer Lee "Scratch" Perry whose innovative scratching, recording and tape manipulation magic became legend in the reggae and dub universe.

The band presciently predicted the punk rock scene taking off with the decline of prog rock and provided a parallel universe type of counter-punk that utilized the similar guitar sounds however their true punk power would peak only on their second album "Deceit." These results became a focus on an eerily cold and detached yet politically charged style that not only predicted the subsequent post-punk explosion that was just around the corner but also provided the fertile sonic explorations that would lay the ground for dark industrial that bands like EinstŘrzende Neubauten who would make it their own in the 80s. Add to that the bizarre noise rock that emanated from their brash explorative nature into bizarre new sonicscapes, THIS HEAT provided a blueprint for noise rock bands such as Sonic Youth as well as a prototype framework for what would become post-rock via the likes of Glenn Branca and ultimately to the explosion of the style that Talk Talk would nurture into the 90s. All this fertile creativity didn't go unnoticed for too long and after a mere demo tape being sent to the great John Peel, this contact found them releasing their eponymously titled debut album, affectionately and colloquially referred to as "Blue And Yellow" in 1979 after three busy years of recording.

Through the run of THIS HEAT's debut album is a surprisingly diverse and accomplished range of sounds replete with post-punk and industrial sounds that find themselves in the company of reggae syncopations, Krautrock motorik rhythmic marches, early post-rock compositional styles that emphasize a slow gradual ascent to a climactic crescendo and alien sounding almost Heldon-esque electronic sounds which sputter about and then transmogrify into something completely different. The sheer amount of different spooky and grueling noise effects on board is completely off the charts with eerie phantasmic Twilight zone oscillations dueling it out with freaked out electronic manipulations. This is the stuff nightmares are made of in much the same way that the contemporary avant-prog band Univers Zero was conjuring up in the world of the chamber rock ensemble. "Music Like Escaping Gas" for example sounds like the darkened moody experimentalism from "Heresie."

THIS HEAT was the collaboration of three hard working music nerds who spent countless hours in the studio perfecting their experimental craft, a studio created from a former meat locker from a closed factory, the perfect venue to channel the cold, lifeless spirits that the music exudes in full mindf.u.ckery. While this debut as well as every THIS HEAT album that was released during their initial run proved to be a little too far ahead for the public to comprehend, predictably sold very poorly but the band managed to attract a loyal cult following. As the decades ensued not he other hand, the band proved to be a major influence for a huge number of musicians and bands including but hardly limited to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Animal Collective, Massive Attack, Public Image Ltd, Radiohead, Swans, Shellac, Lightning Bolt and the aforementioned bands that found a nice home in the industrial aisles at the music market. THIS HEAT have since been deemed musical geniuses far ahead of their time with music so unique that it still sounds as fresh today as it must've all those years ago. If this was the only album they made i'd give this 5 stars but as good as it is, "Deceit" is so much better. But close to perfection this one is. Very, very close.

4.5 but rounded down

 Road Tapes - Venue #2 by ZAPPA, FRANK album cover Live, 2013
4.58 | 49 ratings

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Road Tapes - Venue #2
Frank Zappa RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The mid-1970s lineup of the Mothers which existed (with a few tweaks here and there) from around 1973 (inaugurated on Overnite Sensation) to about 1975 (exiting on One Size Fits All) is already well-regarded in terms of its live releases. The Helsinki Concert of 1974 - released as volume 2 of the You Can't Do That On Stage Any More series - displayed the straight fusion fire they could conjure up, whilst Roxy & Elsewhere is a beloved mashup of wacky comedy and weird music.

Does this make Road Tapes #2 redundant? Not in the slightest. Recorded in Helsinki in 1973 - a couple of months after the Overnite Sensation sessions, but before the Roxy concerts or the more famous 1974 return engagement - it captures this incarnation of the band in perhaps their most musically progressive and arcane mood. Some of the more sedate, jazzy passages here sound positively like Hatfield & the North or National Health - a connection which sounds much less unlikely when you recall that Zappa once jammed with Caravan at a European festival, as a result of the rest of his band being caught up in work visa problems.

Weaving their way through a range of extended medleys and compositions, the band come as close to Zappa's ideal of fusing classical music, rock and jazz in a seamless blend as they ever did, and as such despite occasional little discontinuities and sound quality issues this volume of the Road Tapes nonetheless sheds new light on an incarnation of the Mothers which we'd thought we'd already plumbed the depths of - and as such, more than justifies its inclusion in the flood of archival releases which continue to issue from the family vault.

 The Hidden Man Of The Heart by ROZ VITALIS album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.12 | 90 ratings

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The Hidden Man Of The Heart
Roz Vitalis RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Igor Lu

5 stars "The Hidden Man of the Heart" can apparently be considered the most broad-scale "Roz Vitalis" project at present. Apart from seven main participants, eight new musicians have joined the team, including string quartet headed by Georgiy Fedorov. At the moment "The Hidden Man of the Heart" is the best "Roz Vitalis" album. The band has always been unlike their colleagues with regard to music subculture, but now they managed to reveal their own individual style in exact and adequate way. All compositions sound clearly, the melodies, like sound rays, seem to highlight secret places in listener's mind. Versions became even more laconic; it is not typical of prog-rock, but appears to be absolutely natural for present-day "Roz Vitalis", who seem to have already crossed the line on this genre.
 Lightworks by STOP MOTION ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.33 | 8 ratings

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Lightworks
Stop Motion Orchestra RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by raigor

5 stars "Lightworks" is a long awaited sophomore album by the Austin, TX based instrumental prog-fusion group STOP MOTION ORCHESTRA which is directed by composer, multi-instrumentalist and sound-producer Mohadev. Released as digipak-CD and 12" vinyl by the alliance of Knock'em Dead and Megaphone Records, the album includes 5 instrumental compositions clocking in at 30 minutes.

"Lightworks" was performed and recorded by a renewed line-up: founders Mohadev (guitars, synths, piano), Alden Doyle (violin) and Henna Chou (cello, keyboards) cooperate now with Leila Henley (saxophones, vocals), Sam Arnold (bass, acoustic guitar, banjitar) and Charlie Duncan (drums, percussion). Their music can be described as modern melodic Instrumental that blends together multiple Art-Prog-Rock, World-Fusion, Chamber, Contemporary Classical, and Soundtrack-Cinematic influences in a very own way. Oh yes, it also can be labeled as RIO/Avant-Prog. But it needs to be said, that STOP MOTION ORCHESTRA are at the light and positive end of Avant-Prog spectrum. So, the album title reflects the essence of music pretty well. It's intricate, dense, sophisticated, polyrhythmic and polymorphic work, but never abrasive, abrupt, provocative, or epatage. And it's very illustrative and picturesque? In fact, when you plunge into the fairytale and phantasmagoric world of "Lightworks" you'll forget how complex the music is? you'll simply get caught by the expressiveness of created images and visions. In other words, STOP MOTION ORCHESTRA are fantastic storytellers, and their stories (or music pictures) are always pleasant, captivating, and enjoyable. And they definitely know how to deliver their message to a listener without any words being said or sung. The female voicing you can hear in "Way to Sarov" is used as just another instrumental tool in a rich pictorial palette of the sextet.

To sum up, "Lightworks" by STOP MOTION ORCHESTRA is nothing short to a masterpiece which cannot be described properly in words. So, those who enjoy intricate, intellectual, yet entertaining cross-genre instrumental music should try the album for sure. Let me say my "Bravos" to this incredible ensemble! P.S. Of special note is the top-notch sound quality of the CD-edition. The general audio panorama is much better (to my taste) that of the digital version. Whatever it is, huge respect to Mohadev who is both recording and mixing engineer-producer of "Lightworks".

 Zoot Allures by ZAPPA, FRANK album cover Studio Album, 1976
3.72 | 397 ratings

BUY
Zoot Allures
Frank Zappa RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Frank Zappa's 1976 album is one of the more perplexing items in his mammoth (and, 25-years after his death, still expanding) discography, presenting yet another composite of studio and live tracks, condensed from an aborted two-disc project and with a grab-bag of backup musicians enlisted to fill the various gaps. Even the cover portrait is misleading, showing the touring band assembled after the album was completed (so don't expect to hear Eddie Jobson anywhere on the record).

It must have been difficult for Zappa to maintain his habit of Conceptual Continuity with such a mix-and-match, scattershot production. But the end results are surprisingly coherent, evenly spread across a collection of (mostly) shorter songs: if not for the nearly 10-minute slow burn of "The Torture Never Stops", the album would have fallen well below the 50-minute margin.

The economical, entirely instrumental title track is an obvious highlight, despite the long, unresolved fade-out. According to the official Frank Zappa website, he considered it one of his three signature tunes...so what were the other two? Not "Disco Boy", closing the album on a sour note of now-dated social misanthropy. And certainly not "The Torture Never Stops", a concert favorite better suited to the stage, with plenty of room allowed for live instrumental vamping. In a studio environment it sounds a bit inhibited, and the eerie background wailing (by Zappa's wife, Gail) is more suggestive of the fake sex tape that led to Zappa's arrest in a 1965 Cucamonga vice-squad sting.

Here and elsewhere Zappa's lead vocals are curiously and very closely miked, delivered at just above a whisper. It was probably unintended, but the result is very effective alongside the atypically basic and often quite aggressive rock 'n' roll heard throughout the album. Clearly more effort was spent on the words than on the musical arrangements: one reason perhaps why the instrumental tracks stand out.

Expect to be entertained, not challenged. At his best, Frank Zappa will usually do both.

 They Are The Shield by DRIVER, TOBY album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.89 | 9 ratings

BUY
They Are The Shield
Toby Driver RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by LakeGlade12

5 stars 4.8 Stars. Wonderful violin driven Prog

Sometimes it takes something special to bring oneself out of their self-imposed exile. In my case a full time job plus PhD and other work related commitments has left me with no time or energy for reviewing music. However its albums such as this one that are too good to give a 1-5 star rating to and move on. This album has left me completely captivated with its wonderful arrangements and with no reviews on this site I knew it was time to step out.

If you look though Toby's every expanding catalogue of avant-garde music, you will only find a handful of songs that can be considered beautiful and warm from start to finish. Even his softer albums such as Part the Second or Madonawhore are too caught up in their experimental ideas or cold minimalism respectively to ever consistently pull at the heart strings. The press release for this album stated it as Maudlin without the metal, or Kayo Dot without the chaos, which is a appropriate description, but it does not show how much Toby has stepped out of his comfort zone to create such a deliberately beautiful record. It is however important to note that for all the beauty on display this is still a full-blown Prog album with plenty of complex and experimental ideas to be found.

What will immediately stand out from first listen is how the strings dictate the structure and flow of the entire album. Ever since Mia fully left Kayo Dot after Hubardo we have not had any tracks with any form of strings, and it seems Toby has been growing a large stockpile of ideas since then. In many ways They are the Shield (TATS) can be seen as the successor of Mauldin's Part the Second, which up till now was his most string-dominated album. But TATS takes it to a completely new level, with some of the best arrangements I have ever heard.

For the most part TATS is a slow and fairly ambient album, but there are enough exceptions to keep it from dragging. 470 nanometers playfully shifts around and is full of energy that is ready to break out. The outros of The Knot and Glyph are full of emotion and spectacular arrangements that grasp my full attention. Despite TATS's mostly laidback tempo this 43 minute album flies by and never drops in quality, something I can only say about to a small number of albums.

I can keep going but I think I have said everything that needs to be said about this album. The only other important thing to note is that it is right now free on Bandcamp (name your price) so there is no excuse for not giving this album a try. This is a special album that I will be coming back to for many years to come, and can be ranked with Toby Driver's best material.

And now I return to my exile...

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