Sunday, February 21, 2010


(U.K. cover)

(U.S. cover)
Band: Gentle Giant
Album: Octopus
Best song: "A Cry for Everyone" is awesome.
Worst song: "The Boys In The Band" is mostly nonsense.

As previously mentioned elsewhere, I went throught a mini progressive rock period in my life. It was about a year long and I continue to hold a candle for the type of bands Roger Dean probably enjoys (he certainly works for them).

I'm no connoisseur; I've always simply skimmed prog rock for the bands that had influenced my favorite bands. Pink Floyd remains my favorite prog band and there's no real agreement about music people whether Floyd's work is really all that proggy. But, I do love and continue to listen to albums by Yes, Genesis, Rush and King Crimson.

Gentle Giant is considered one of the more influential and skilled progressive rock bands of the 1970s. Where Crimson's records are insane, dreamy and not tied to a particular national sound, Gentle Giant is a decidedly English band, with minstrel-esque strings and layered harmonies dotting the record.

The record is the band's hardest, with some interesting synth lines and some hard(ish) guitar riffs. John Weathers' drumming is not the star of the show -- Neil Peart seems to be the only one who did this in a 70s prog band -- but keeps excellent time. DErek Shulman's voice is clear and clean, with little in the way of embellishment. Again, classically trained musicians can pull off some excellent prog.

Lyrically, the album is pretentious, as is the progressive rock way. Evoking Camus, the album incluces lyrics such as "Everyone dies if only to justify life." Rush it is not.

"Knots" is bizarre and circus-sounding at the onset, with full band dropping in and out of the record. Based on a book by Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, the song is a mindfuck.


I bought Octopus largely on a whim. It's a difficult thing to justify; I mostly just wanted to grow my prog collection and add a band I'd not heard enough. I'm glad I did. Every time I pick it up, I enjoy it.

1 comment:

dan said...

Without question, the 'alternative', 'independent' scene stemmed from the punk rock movement of the late 1970's, which was a revolt of sorts against the kind of music that Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, and of course Gentle Giant played. Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, the music that represented the alternative scene was mostly loud, abrasive, and above all, simple. When you look at the great underground bands of the last two or three decades such as Husker Du, the Replacements, the Pixies, Pavement, etc etc, their touchstones were bands like the Stooges, the Clash, and the Velvet Underground. They were bands that kept it simple and basic. The 1990s followed similar trends, and I would argue that except for Radiohead, no bands that achieved underground popularity could be deemed progressive. While the music was no longer punk, it was still guitar-based rock.

My point is this: Isn't it absolutely bizarre that in the last few years the indie community has fallen in love with bands that take more from the prog of the early 70's than the punk of the late 70's? Artists such as Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and Dirty Projectors regularly top indie best-of lists, yet their music is so whimsical and odd that there is nothing 'punk' about it. What's up with that? In the late 90's and early 00's, Pitchfork, for example, would never have hyped any of those previously mentioned bands, yet now they are the critics' choice.

I'm not sure if I lament the change or embrace it; I too enjoyed a prog phase in my younger days where I constantly listened to Tull, Camel, and Harmonium, and I definitely enjoy Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective. I guess I'm just confused as to why the alt-indie community made such a bizarre turn like that. Have you noticed these trends or am I the only one?