Category Archives: prog

David Weigel: The Show That Never Ends

Most commonly referred to by fans and detractors alike with the shorthand term “prog”, progressive rock is arguably the one branch of the pop music family tree most likely to elicit sharply divided opinions. Boasting a fanbase that has a borderline religious devotion, prog has been long overdue for a book length canonization. I don’t know if David Weigel’s latest book, The Show That Never Ends, will be the definitive statement on the history of progressive rock, but it’s a solid contender despite being in an uncrowded field. Writing a chronicle of prog’s trajectory through the pop culture sphere which begins with its early pioneers and brings us to the present is no small feat. Much like his subjects, Weigel has staked out an ambitious mandate for a 278 page book. Nevertheless, The Show That Never Ends is eminently readable and, for my money, is as satisfying an overview as one would hope for given its length and scope.

King Crimson

Yes

Genesis

ELP

As one might expect, The Show That Never Ends focuses on the biggest movers of the progressive genre. The career arcs of Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, ELP and King Crimson are given a generous space while the also-rans, second stringers, side projects, one-off supergroups and fan favorites are also given a hearing. The leading lights of the Canterbury scene are also given a fairly robust treatment. Fans of Soft Machine, Gong, Caravan, Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, and Robert Wyatt will doubtless enjoy Weigel’s respectful recognition of the significance these players made to the movement.

Rush

Weigel’s focus remains primarily centered around the genre’s British origins. When he finally turns his attention North America, it’s limited to Rush and Kansas. Any book that covers this much territory is bound to leave some people dissatisfied. One can easily imagine the indignant proclamations of outraged prog fans everywhere as they debate the exclusion of [fill in the blank]. I’ll add my indignation to the bonfire by stating that I was disappointed by the short shrift Magma received and I was absolutely gobsmacked by the twin omissions of Henry Cow and Saga.

Even at the most superficial level, Weigel’s account poses worthwhile questions. Is there a subgenre of rock more maligned than progressive rock? Was this hatred manufactured? Was punk the natural course correction rock historians have long claimed? Should rock even be “progressive” in the first place? Is prog elitist pomp or is it populist high culture? Are the pioneers of progressive rock geniuses or charlatans? Was the emergence of progressive rock an organic phenomenon or was it simply the product of upper crust Brits with too much idle time? Does prog even matter anymore?

Prog was and is ambitious music. By and large, rock’s calling card was its libidinous energy, hedonistic lyrics and its primal simplicity. It was mostly designed to piss off your parents and priests. It was also mostly a soundtrack for getting wasted, defying authority and getting laid. In the wake of the release of Sergeant Pepper’s and Pet Sounds, proggers sought new horizons. The progressive rocker wanted to liberate rock from the rigid confines of blues based harmony and the pedestrian grind of 4/4 time. The characteristics of “high art” music suddenly became raw materials for an alchemical transformation in the incantatory fires of rock’s furnace. Anglican church hymns, classical harmonies and structures, jazz improvisation, and English folk were all fair game. Lyrics no longer fixated on banalities like romance. Instead, proggers took to themes that drew from fantasy, sci-fi, history, religion and the occult. From the ferment of Britain’s rock scene in the mid and late sixties, the progressive rock genre took shape. Prog became the soundtrack to late nights, black lights, and bong hits for a mostly educated, upwardly mobile middle class in Europe and America.

There’s something about hymns, they’re simple and they’re direct but they have a kind of connection. – Tony Banks, Genesis (p. 12)

Weigel is clearly a fan and his treatment of the subject matter is very sympathetic overall. However, he is an establishment writer, and he is attempting to play the role of neutral arbitrator of events. While this approach serves to make this an entertaining and reasonably informative synthesis of a significant slice of rock subculture, it also feels painfully banal and aggressively anodyne in places. Particularly when it comes to the musicians’ proximity to the military-intelligence community, the Tavistock Institute, the Royal Society, the British aristocracy, the Labour Party or the occult.

I was so involved, I didn’t know what to think

This is very apparent when recounting Robert Fripp’s time at Sherborne House in the mid-70’s after the demise of the first iteration of King Crimson. It’s especially curious given that Fripp’s exploits within and without King Crimson comprise a fairly significant portion of the book. Along with Keith Jarrett, Kate Bush and George Russell, Fripp had developed an interest in the cultish teachings of George Gurdjieff. He had befriended Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates and had done so during a time of pure isolation from the outside world. According to Fripp, it was a time that was “both physically painful and spiritually terrifying” (p. 180) Weigel cites a quote from a 1978 interview in which Fripp confesses that “Sherborne filled its residents with the “the kind of cold that freezes the soul” (p. 180). I found myself wanting to understand more fully what Fripp might have meant by that, but Weigel drops it on the floor and explores no further. Instead, he goes on to recount the Hall and Fripp collaboration which resulted in the Hall solo record, Sacred Songs. It’s not a secret that Sacred Songs was inspired by Hall’s fascination with Aleister Crowley. Surely, Weigel knew that this was the common ground between Hall and Fripp’s interest in Gurdjieff’s esoteric teachings. Furthermore, he ignores the vast influence of John G. Bennett, the founder of the International Academy of Continuous Education, on the various strands of New Age thought we find today. Weigel abandons a juicy lead which links this artistic movement with the proliferation of what now passes for “spirituality”.

I think that whoever is listening to it should feel the same thing, that they are in tune and in time with God. – Jon Anderson, Yes (p. 72)

Sinfield reached into his notebook and pulled out “King Crimson,” a term he had come up with to fill in when “Satan” didn’t fit a rhyme. (p. 43)

Choice, choice, freedom? I have no choice, I can only do the will of God, this is freedom. – Robert Fripp (p. 197)

Fohat digs holes in space, man!

What’s gone is gone and I do not give a damn

The same superficial gloss is given to his casual mention of Jon Anderson’s spiritual beliefs, the deeper inspiration for Christian Vander’s vision, the Roches’ fascination with Wilhelm Reich, the gnostic overtones to Peter Gabriel’s focus on Carl Jung, ELP’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of Giger’s occult inspirations as well as Daevid Allen’s fairly well publicized fascination with ritual magick. This may seem like pointless muckraking, but it gets to the essence of what proggers were actually saying as artists. Weigel obviously thinks this is an unfairly maligned genre and that it should be accorded more respect. Prog is a cool soundtrack for smoking weed and most of them were first rate virtuosos, but all the proggers had something to say at some level. The messages seemed to run the gamut from an attempt to create meaning from nothing to messianic zeal. To selectively emphasize these things seems like journalistic malpractice.

The only reason I’ve been able to come up with as to why we became musicians was because there wasn’t anything to rebel or fight against. We weren’t doing it with another agenda as a means to escape. If we were seeking to escape, then it would have been from a kingdom of nothingness. Michael Giles, King Crimson (p. 10)

This tendency is especially egregious in his treatment of Rush. Weigel exposes himself as yet another progressive partisan hack when discussing Neil Peart’s affinity for Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. As usual, he appears to think the British Labour Party has nothing for which to apologize, and Neil Peart’s critics were completely justified. He ensures that the critical scorn heaped on Rush was clearly spelled out in case there’s any mystery about what the woke intelligentsia thinks of you dumbass LOLbertarians. Not only does he fail to mention that Neil Peart went on record with a softened stance on libertarianism in 2012, but he openly aligned himself with the Democratic Party in a RS interview from 2015! Weigel had ready access to this information while writing this book. Why else would you place so much emphasis on his former libertarian convictions if not to feed the already overheated Ayn Rand hate mill? He even goes out of his way to score easy ideological points by mentioning Rush’s refusal to allow Rand Paul to continue using their music on the campaign trail. See? Even Rush shut down Rand Paul. LMAO! Ooh. Sticking it to the Randian Objectivists. How #EDGY, Weigel.

Maybe his mind is for rent after all.

A casual glimpse of Weigel’s Twitter feed reveals him as a typical leftist stooge who fancies himself some kind of brave dissident embedded on the front lines of the Trump #RESISTANCE. In other words, the embodiment of kind of the anti-authoritarianism that formed the basis of the album he lionized, 2112. If Weigel had an ounce of intellectual honesty, he would cast a skeptical glance toward the Corbynistas and the Eurocrats. Ayn Rand wasn’t right about everything, but if he actually allowed himself to examine the grievances of #Brexiters without his ideological blinders, he’d recognize that Peart apprehended the harm Labour has visited on the UK with greater clarity than his fellow media lackeys. Progressives are contemptuous of libertarianism except when it’s convenient for their agenda.

His partisan allegiance is significant because it may explain his seeming unwillingness to examine the extent to which prog’s demise was driven by the very media establishment to which he belongs. It’s true that plenty of bands built careers defying the establishment consensus, but Weigel’s refusal to investigate his own people speaks volumes.

The downfall of progressive rock happened quickly, with an entire critical establishment [emphasis mine] seemingly rooting for its demise. (p. 200)

This is especially significant given that the media’s pretense of neutrality has been revealed as a contemptible lie in the Trump era. If we take the case that the media are handmaidens of the deep state who are merely taking orders from an elite class more invested in cultural engineering than journalism, Weigel’s observation suggests much, much more.

You can force people to go into trances, and tell them what to do; it’s mass hypnotism, and you’re really setting yourself up as God. – Dave Brock, Hawkwind (p. 96)

Speaking of establishment elites, his ideological blinders also stunted his ability to investigate the extent to which prog was being encouraged by the social engineers of the Tavistock Institute and Royal Society or the extent to which they were under the influence of MI6 assets. Curiously, he included a quote by Crimson alum, Gordon Haskell, which speaks directly to all of these possibilities. My suspicion is that Weigel’s decision to include this quote was to hold him up as a conspiracy obsessed lunatic with an axe to grind against Robert Fripp. Of course, Weigel doesn’t explore any of these allegations, and allows the quote to go unexamined.

“The King Crimson weapon is musical fascism, made by fascists, designed by fascists to dehumanize, to strip mankind of his dignity and soul,” he said later. “It’s pure Tavistock Institute material, financed by the Rothschild Zionists and promoted by two poncy public school boys with connections to the city of London.” Gordon Haskell, King Crimson (p. 62)

Weigel concludes with a brief overview of prog’s unlikely resurgence in the midst of the nihilistic howling that defined the 90s grunge aesthetic. Led by neo-prog revivalists like Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, The Mars Volta, Opeth and Spock’s Beard, prog had absorbed a more muscular and metallic edge from its stylistic progeny, but it seemed even more anachronistic than in its previous generation. Despite what is implied in the term “progressive” in contemporary parlance, I contend that there’s something reactionary about playing or enjoying prog in 2019.

We’ve become accustomed to the idea of the pop culture sphere being a quintessentially Darwinian ecosystem. It is the epitome of a dominance hierarchy in which the lowest common denominator generally captures the biggest market share while those who swim against the tide get bulldozed. It cannibalizes itself, but only to reflect and refract the most fashionable aesthetic trends and sensibilities of the moment. Prog’s sonic and compositional innovations were eventually flattened and absorbed into blueprints for virtually every style that comprised the 80s once the punk template had been firmly established as the new artistic orthodoxy.

While there’s usually enough bandwidth for a mass market Serious Artist or two who reaches an arena sized audience, you generally find the contemporary progger playing a 1000-seat venue or at a niche festival like ProgDay. The idea that a multibillion dollar rock industry which extends into every corner of culture is in any way rebellious or transgressive is a pathetic joke. Even if it’s loaded with odd metered rhythms, dense harmonies and extended psychedelic jams. Subsequently, the very idea of playing a form of rock music, the ultimate anti-tradition tradition, which adheres to a set of bygone ideals however loosely defined can only be seen as…well….conservative.

Prog was a byproduct of the 60s counterculture, and embodied the utopian idealism of the Flower Power generation which originally coronated it. As subsequent generations of rockers turned increasingly hedonistic and cynical, the Holy Mountain of progressive rock continues to attract acolytes precisely because it at least stood for something. Even if proggers had disparate goals, the fundamental message of the pursuit of a transcendent ideal seemed to be the binding force. I suggest that for today’s musicians, progressive rock is seen as something akin to a sacred calling. A spiritual cosmic journey that will always beckon mystics, dreamers, and charlatans along with the hardiest and most dedicated souls.

The existence of David Weigel’s history of progressive rock is a laudable achievement all by itself, but it also happens to be a fun read. Perhaps it is churlish to nitpick and we should simply enjoy the fact that it is here in the first place. If nothing else, we proggers are an opinionated bunch. You develop high standards when you’re an idealist.

By the time John Wetton’s Asia had sold millions of copies of its bland radio-friendly pop in the 80s, the post-hippie counterculture that was progressive rock, based on the idealistic impulses of the 60s, had finally run its course. The dream, or illusion, of individual and global enlightenment was over. Progressive rock, like the period that gave rise to it, was essentially optimistic. The whole underlying goal – to draw together rock, classical and folk into a surreal metastyle – was inherently an optimistic ideal. At its best, the genre engaged listeners in a quest for spiritual authenticity. We took ourselves too seriously, of course, and its po-faced earnestness could lapse into a moronic naivete, but it never gave way to bitterness, cynicism or self-pity. – Bill Bruford (p. 250)

Heterotopia Live: Oberon, September 29, 2017

Schooltree_AustinHuckHIVEStudio

Warriors of the Metaphysical Wasteland: Schooltree

Among the various types of rockers one encounters in the world, I believe the heart of the prog rocker is uniquely romantic. In contrast to all other genres, the prog rocker is the one who sees music making as a mythic quest and a sacred calling. The prog rocker has a story to tell that is so epic, the danger and drama can only be conveyed through labyrinthine compositions and spellbinding feats of musical virtuosity.  The prog rocker is going to unsheath Excalibur from the stone and slay the dragon while on his way to Mordor to destroy the One Ring while simultaneously telling you the story of how Stonehenge was built. It’s an artistic quest that many attempt, but at which very few truly succeed. Especially in 2017.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to attest that Lainey Schooltree has chased that Holy Grail and brought it back to the land of the mortals in the form of 100 minute epic called Heterotopia. She has kept her covenant with the ancient gods of progressive rock and delivered a work that deserves a place in the pantheon. After seeing Heterotopia in its embryonic state, I was especially excited to see how it translated in a proper live setting in its final form. Not only did it exceed my already high expectations, but I left having the sense that I had witnessed the launch of a significant work that demands to be judged on the global stage.

Heterotopia has an elaborate narrative, but you don’t need to follow it or even understand it in order to enjoy it as a pure rock spectacle. Backed by a 10 person Greek chorus, some choice lighting and two exceptionally well timed releases of dry ice, the five members of Schooltree powered through Heterotopia in its entirety like world class heavyweight champions.

Every band aspires to make an album that’s all killer and no filler, but Heterotopia actually is one of those records. There were, of course, notable standouts. In the role of Metanoia, Kristin Santangelo was positively captivating in “The Leitmaiden” and “Enantiodromia”. There is probably no one on earth better suited to the role of Enantiodromia than the incomparable Mali Sastri. “The River” is the one track on Heterotopia where the emotional tenor turns pitch black, but it delivers just as much doom laden grandeur as you’ll get from Magma or Van Der Graaf Generator. In addition to her already considerable feats of vocal sorcery, the combination of her wild eyed stare, gothic makeup and flared black dress left you feeling as though you were in the presence of a supernatural being. And a rather terrifying one at that.

Besides providing so many of the glorious backup harmonies to many of the songs, the 10 person Greek chorus had several standout sections of their own. “The Bottom of the River” managed to synthesize English folk music and Sondheim all in one piece. “Rocksinger” sounds something like a track The Sweet were commissioned to write for Schoolhouse Rock, but was rejected for its references to Suzi’s indiscriminate drug usage and sexual favors.

Heterotopia is solidly a work of progressive rock, but it never strays too far from its rhythmic anchors in the straight ahead rock tradition. The motorik pulse of “Dead Girl” draws you in and builds up to an outrageous climax.

For my money, “The Edge Annihilate” is the song for the ages. I’m convinced it’s the hidden track from The Sensual World in which Kate Bush collaborated with Journey. It’s “Don’t Stop Believing” for the goth crowd with backup harmonies provided by the Trio Bulgarka. It’s a strange conjunction, but I swear I was ready to hoist a lighter aloft as soon as Tom Collins’ fill kicked off that final chorus.

By far, the musical and emotional pinnacle of the performance was “Day of the Rogue”. Starting with a piano riff that sounds damn close to “Great Gig in the Sky”, “Day of the Rogue” is the culmination of Suzi’s transformation and the beginning of her reentry into the physical world.  It’s a testament to Schooltree’s artistry that she’s able to constantly subvert your expectations by setting the emotional tenor of the music against the dramatic events and make it soar. The final stretch of the song was among the most triumphant two minutes of gloom I’ve ever heard. Even without a Stonehenge replica descending from the ceiling to cap it all off, it was an experience that was only heightened by the release of dry ice and a dazzling flourish of psychedelic lights. One could imagine that if they continued to ramp up the design and visual production values, Heterotopia could easily be a big ticket entertainment option in any major city. 

This incarnation of Schooltree is the second iteration I’ve seen and is marked by a complete turnover in the bass and guitar duties and the welcome addition of a dedicated synthesizer player. While it’s eminently clear each musician is accomplished in his own right, they exercise such discipline in executing this music, it’s often hard to tell where Lainey’s vision ends and their individualism begins. Filling the role vacated by the estimable Brendan Burns, Sam Crawford more than proved his mettle by juggling rhythmic chores, melodic lines, sonic textures and one all too short solo in “Specter Lyfe”. The addition of Peter Danilchuk on synthesizer was an inspired and welcome addition to the Schooltree sound. Besides all of the excellent written material, he churned out some first rate spacey psychedelia on “The Abyss”. Forming the foundation of the entire musical edifice of Heterotopia, Ryan Schwartzel on bass and Tom Collins on drums were models of taste, economy and restraint.

Decked out in goth chick glam, Schooltree herself seemed content to let Heterotopia speak for itself. And that’s exactly as it should be. While so many are eager to confer automatic legitimacy and priority to “womyn in rock” these days, Lainey Schooltree has simply thrown down a gauntlet of stone cold artistic achievement. Heterotopia is a musical monument that stands tall in the valley of its ancestors and demands to be judged alongside them. I may not have seen Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis back in their heyday. But I did see Heterotopia at Oberon in 2017. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a perfectly comparable experience.

Masters of Unreality: Sam Crawford, Peter Danilchuk, Lainey Schooltree, Tom Collins, Ryan Schwartzel

 

Red Rockers: GY!BE’s Empty Commie Agitprop

Luciferian Towers is the seventh release from Canada’s preeminent purveyors of apocalyptic art rock, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. As expected, the music media have rolled out the red carpet and showered the album with praise. And understandably so. They are a band for which the most hushed tones of reverence are reserved, and the album delivers the musical goods that GY!BE fans have come to expect. Doom laden slow burn reveries build up to ecstatic peaks which manage to be beautiful and foreboding all at once. Jagged and charred dronescapes which channel a multitudinous howl at the injustices of the world lodge themselves into the deepest recesses of your mind. It’s all good stuff, and GY!BE truly are among the best at this kind of thing. Like Swans and NIN, existential angst and politically charged dread have a place in the artistic landscape. I would argue that their particular brand of paranoid musical fever dream is effective precisely because they have successfully given a musical voice to the anxiety, fear, and embittered rage that lives at the heart of the Left’s political worldview. 

And that brings us to my beef with what is otherwise a fantastic art rock record. GY!BE have always worn their political stripes on their sleeve, but on Luciferian Towers, they’ve basically hoisted the hammer and sickle flag and started singing the “International”. This is not a startling revelation, but I applaud them for being forthright and specific about their political goals. Communists tend not to be open to arguing the merits of their ideology, but I’m happy to take this opportunity to hopefully disabuse Menuck and company of this barbaric and regressive point of view. My bigger problem is that they’re a band that asks to be taken seriously, but if we take the message at face value, I’m not sure they’re entirely serious about their own message. If the critical response is any indication, I’m not sure the critics or the fans do either. My sense is that, like Rage Against the Machine and other Marxist poseurs, it’s a way to score points with the cool kids and affect the standard leftist posture of being some revolutionary badass. And if they are as serious as they seem to be, this is yet another example of the Left’s insanely pathological fawning and blasé indifference to what is quite clearly a call for open borders, violent revolution, and another socialist dictatorship. Admittedly, that’s apparently what the Left is after, but one hopes that such an explicit declaration of political intent would elicit a little bit of concern for anyone who might have misgivings over that agenda. 

Think I’m being hyperbolic? Let’s listen to each track, take a look at the editorial behind it and discuss the list of “demands” that served as inspiration for this recording. 

Apparently written by GY!BE’s prime mover, Efrim Menuck, the Luciferian Towers press release is written in affected, broken English that’s straddles the line between half baked poetry, pretentious art school twaddle, and infantile, semi-literate rantings. This kind of fractured, would-be deconstructionism is barely distinguishable from Tumblr grade bilge and practically memes itself. The deliberate insertion of an incorrect and unnecessary indefinite article in the title to the opening track, “Undoing a Luciferian Towers”, sounds retarded and feels pointless. So are we to take this editorial as boilerplate Marxist contempt for urban architecture and all of the capitalist rapacity it symbolizes or is it a tacit endorsement of terrorist destruction? Or is it a veiled celebration of 9/11? It’s not entirely clear, but one presumes that the violent nihilism of the image is sufficient to convey their “revolutionary” contempt for modern society. Setting that uncertainty aside, the song itself is another triumph of GY!BE’s tormented beauty. Sheets of kaleidoscopic noise punctuated by shards of atonal shrieks march into the gloom accompanied by a lonely and spartan snare drum cadence. The song culminates in a surprisingly triumphant sounding melody reminiscent of Albert Ayler if he were backed by Black Sabbath. It’s more upbeat variation on the kind of song on which GY!BE have built their career, and it’s a stunning opener. 

“Bosses Hang” is a three part suite which picks up where the previous song left off. Part I gives us another soaring anthem which sounds something like an electrified Liberation Music Orchestra track in a major key. Part II is a minimalist heavenward climb worthy of Branca which ratchets up the tension through steady accretion of rhythmic and harmonic layers and explodes into climatic recapitulation the original theme.

Because the music is so expertly conceived and executed, I’m especially annoyed by what they’re saying on this track. The press release spews more dumb Marxist clichés about capitalist producers extracting surplus value from the proles while whinging about how beleaguered and alienated they are. Listen, guys. Suck it in and cope, cupcakes. You’ve achieved more commercial success than most musicians on the planet achieve in an entire career. I get that it’s hard to feed a family on this stuff, but you make music that mostly appeals to young, urban hipsters. This whole posture of oppression smacks of spoiled ingratitude. You make make music on your own terms while promoting a political ideology that would absolutely destroy the ability to make this music in the first place. What more do you want, guys? But hey. Whatever, man. DOWN WITH THE BOURGEOISIE, AMIRITE COMRADES?! HANG ‘EM HIGH! THAT’LL SOLVE EVERYTHING. IT’S NOT LIKE THIS VERY AGENDA HAS ALREADY RESULTED IN THE DEATH OF 200 MILLION PEOPLE OR ANYTHING. WE’LL FINALLY GET IT RIGHT THIS TIME AND MAKE IT 400 MILLION. And what’s with all this horseshit about shovels, wells and barricades? Are you planning on building the Montreal Commune or are you digging mass graves for the executions you and your fellow revolutionaries plan on carrying out? 

Do GY!BE LITERALLY want bosses to hang? If I had to bet, I’d wager that they aren’t serious and just want to be regarded as edgelords. But then again, I can’t be sure. The actions of the radical Left are getting closer to their overheated rhetoric lately, so maybe this is another provocation. Lately, this kind of sentiment is de rigueur, and leftist calls for violence are A-OK. But man, if you say “nigger” on a live stream while playing a video game, WATCH THE FUCK OUT, BRO. 

Even if we get past the dumb postmodern affectations and tortured blathering that accompanies “Fam/Famine”, it’s another sad projection of what their ideology actually produces in the world. The socialist always blames privation, repression and conflict on capitalism, but mysteriously dismisses the ACTUAL privation, repression and conflict of socialism. Venezuela is resorting to rabbits to feed its population, and like clockwork, socialist apologists have already declared socialism blameless. While I’m sure they’ve got some variation of #NotRealSocialism at the ready for people like me, this is basically GY!BE telling you exactly what you can expect if their utopia were implemented. 

They wrap up the record by bitching about kanada and agitating for “anarchy” in the three part epic, “Anthem for No State”. Once again, when it comes down to the music, they have earned the accolades. If Sergio Leone collaborated with Alejandro Jodorowsky on a follow-up to El Topo, this would be my top pick for the soundtrack. Part III begins with a thundering wall of toms while peals of feedback scream overhead like some infernal hellbeast. The Morricone inspired battle cry enters on guitar and is answered by the strings. As is the case with everything they do, it’s very dramatic and it has a rousing, martial quality to it. This GY!BE suite wants to be a call to arms, but I sense that it’s more a soundtrack to anarchist LARPing. 

All in all, the record is very good as a pure musical achievement. I actually like GY!BE and consider myself a fan. I just can’t abide all this AnCom horseshit. Either it’s a pose or they haven’t thought it through. But if you are serious, Efrim and company, may you get all the communism you ask for, Comrades. Clearly, some of us only learn the hard way.

But what about the “grand demands” that informed this record? Because, after all, nothing says you’re dedicated to the emancipation of humanity quite like a set of DEMANDS I always say. 

An end to foreign invasions.

Ok. Fine. I’m with you on this one, Comrades. I gotta say though. This doesn’t seem too high on the progressive agenda. It also doesn’t really square with the whole trend towards arbitrarily declaring everyone who disagrees with you a Nazi and then punching them. That seems to be the MO of your fellow Antifa LARPers these days. Not exactly the most peaceful approach to things, IMHO. But kudos to you for your antiwar position, brothers. 

An end to borders.

I’m calling bullshit on this one, fellas. You don’t really want this. You don’t. I know it makes you look cool and it’s a great way to virtue signal how #TOLERANT you are, but this is a terrible policy. This is actually being attempted right now in a place called Europe, and guess what? It’s not working so well. Ask anyone who isn’t drinking EU KoolAid. Notice that most of the immigrants are coming FROM the Islamic world TO the West. If they’re all just good hearted people trying to improve their station, what does this say about the quality of life in Islamic countries? Is it possible that there are limits to the great experiment of multiculturalism? Is it possible that some cultures have no intention of assimilating the values to which those of us who grew up in America and the West have become accustomed? Is it possible that even in a borderless world, you will have to contend with the issue of creating social cohesion? If Western countries are just bigoted shitholes, why are so many people from other countries clamoring to get here? How many of you would emigrate to an Islamic or African country? 

Let me guess. #Brexit, Poland and the Netherlands are all just death throes of reactionary, residual Eurocentric white nationalism. All that pesky Islamic terrorism will go away when the capitalist pigs stop waging war and white people stop being such Islamophobes. Everyone needs to learn to love the EU, be more like Sweden and take their daily dose of oxytocin and everything will be great. What an edgy and contrarian position to take. I wonder where Mr. Menuck and company got this radical and fringe opinion. 

How anti-establishment are GY!BE?

Open borders. That’s just WAY OUT ON THE EDGE, dudes.

Besides, what about the immigration policy that’s being enforced by your homeboy, Justin Trudeau? Come on now, Comrades. Surely, you guys are up in his shit every day for upholding such an oppressive border policy. 

And what about all that crap about shovels, wells and BARRICADES you wrote in the notes to “Bosses Hang”? A barricade is a form of BARRIER to limit egress, is it not? Sounds a little bit like a BORDER if you ask me. 

The total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex.

LMAO! It’s the Virtue Signal, Batman! Look, I’m sure we can agree that the pursuit of law and order has gone too far and the system has swallowed up nonviolent offenders and ruined a few too many lives. But guess what? Even if we allow for the slim possibility that there is some percentage of the prison population who are nonviolent offenders or victims of a miscarriage of justice that can reenter society and function as law abiding citizens, we’re still left with a significant population of ACTUAL FELONS. You know. Rapists. Murderers. Terrorists. 

What then, Comrades? A peaceful reign of brotherly harmony where we all drink kombucha, listen to GY!BE and chill? I suggest you think this through a little more. 

Healthcare, housing, food and water acknowledged as an inalienable human right.

Ah yes. At last we arrive at the “anarchist” conception of rights.  What you actually have here, Comrades, is a self-detonating argument. If you consider the provision of material goods and professional services to be RIGHTS, then that means that certain individuals who possess the ABILITY to produce said goods and services are now OBLIGATED to provide them for others. So if you truly consider these rights to be INALIENABLE, as in cannot be taken away, then that means that some group of people will be FORCED to provide goods and services for others. And another group will be charged with ENFORCEMENT of said rights. As in through the barrel of a gun. I don’t see how you can declare all of these things inalienable rights given that the forcible provision of these goods and services destroys the humane incentives that are built into the market economy and necessitates the creation of a permanent class of enforcers. As in RULERS. Not very anarchist, is it, Comrades? Lots of contingencies if you catch my drift. Pardon me for raining on your parade, but that sounds like a recipe for enslavement. Maybe you’re cool with that. This little trick has been tried before, Comrades. It doesn’t have a happy ending.

Not only that, you’ll have shot yourselves in the foot by executing the capitalists. I know it’s hard to believe, but you can’t run businesses unless you have….wait for it….SKILLS. I know. You guys love your Marxism and insist that they’re just soulless predators, but your anarchist utopia is going to be badly thwarted if you go through with the purges. Just sayin’.

Also, I don’t get why you guys are grousing about all this. Canada is lauded as a model of progressive governance by leftists throughout the world. Rolling Stone had such a hard on for Justin Trudeau, they gave him what amounted to an act of journalistic fellatio. If you think things are so shitty in kanada that you’d enslave others at gunpoint in order to bring about utopia, then what does this say about the progressive agenda? I’ll tell you what it suggests to me. Either you can’t be content with the soft socialism you already have, or that progressivism inevitably leads to totalitarianism. Or maybe you’re just saying all this shit in order to look cool.

Or maybe all three.

Isn’t he dreamy?

The expert fuckers who broke this world never get to speak again.

I’ll just leave this right here.  

Schooltree: Heterotopia

When I heard that Lainey Schooltree was composing a rock opera, I could hear my own inner Boromir at the Council of Elrond. It was as though I had just heard the news that the One Ring was to be brought to Mordor.

One does not simply write a prog rock opera, Lainey. The black gates of the music industry are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. And the great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland. Riddled with Arianna Grande and DNCE and Beiber. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly!

Never one to back down from an epic musical calling, that’s precisely what she set out to do. Fortunately for us, she succeeded and Heterotopia is the prog rock opera you’ve been waiting for. A project four years in the making, Heterotopia is a sprawling 100-minute epic which earns a place alongside Tommy, The Wall, or any other comparable effort you can name. Yes, it’s that good.

Heterotopia is a sort of metaphysical Hero’s Journey mixed with gothic fantasy. It’s a pomo Alice in Wonderland meets Lord of the Rings by way of Neil Gaiman. It’s a story of a down and out singer named Suzi who is disillusioned with the music industry, but finds her reality shattered when she follows a 100-legged cat down a rabbit hole into an alternate reality called Otherspace. While in Otherspace, she discovers that she has detached from her physical form and may not be able to recover her corporeal self. Worse, Otherspace is slowly being overrun by an encroaching darkness which threatens to enter the physical world and Suzi finds herself faced with an existential choice.

As good as it is, Heterotopia walks a very interesting tightrope. It has a seemingly populist heart, but it’s counterpoised by an overall vibe of gothic gloom. It may be a difficult pill to swallow for those expecting the kind of ecstatic emotional peaks one might reasonably expect from a rock musical. As a work of progressive rock, it’s an unmitigated triumph. Heterotopia is a cornucopia of musical riches for even the most rabid prog head. It has all of prog’s virtues and none of its vices. It has epic melodies, knotty riffs, angular rhythms, squiggly synth lines, dense harmonies, and plenty of odd metered nerdity. There’s also plenty of old fashioned arena sized, fist pumping rockage. None of it feels excessive, and all of it is ultimately subordinate to Schooltree’s impeccable instincts for songcraft. It is short on any kind of extended improvisation, but when the guitar jam and synth freakout finally arrive, it’s some serious lighters-in-the-air shit.

Schooltree’s prog bona fides are unimpeachable. She has clearly done her turntable homework. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is an obvious musical and thematic touchstone, but Schooltree hacks the prog genome and produces a refreshing and satisfying mutation of her own. Heterotopia reaches for the towering heights of Yes, Genesis, Queen, Supertramp and even deeper recesses of the family tree like Klaatu and Gentle Giant. I’m even going to second Jon Davis at Exposé by saying that Heterotopia bears some similarities to early Saga. One also detects the unmistakable DNA signature of Broadway musicals like Into the Woods and Jesus Christ Superstar coursing through its bloodstream. Musicals should be judged on the strength of the vocal storytelling, and Heterotopia doesn’t disappoint. Schooltree has an equal gift for the anthemic hook, the spectral vocal choir, and the spooky incantations of Dreaming-era Kate Bush. The songs are packed with hooks, but Schooltree always manages to subvert your expectations with a clever turn of phrase. The catchiness of the songs is offset by lyrics filled with ghosts, zombies, illusions, and pits of darkness. Schooltree is one of those artists who writes the most beautifully captivating melody or irresistible pop earworm, but when you listen to what she’s saying, the subject matter often belies the emotional tenor of the music.

The drama of Heterotopia centers around Suzi’s quest to reclaim her corporeal self. In order to achieve this, she must confront the fallen queen of Otherspace, Enantiodromia. The mythological surface of the piece is merely a vehicle for some rather morbid existential ruminations over the nature of consciousness, death, and free will. By combining prog, epic fantasy, and abstract philosophy, Heterotopia has certainly sealed a trifecta of high concept artiness. There’s a Nietzsche reference or two to be found amidst the Foucauldian mindfuckery. The central theme seems to revolve around the line between reality versus illusion, and the extent to which the latter shapes the former. Prog has always been a platform for big ideas and epic narratives, and this conjunction of mythic storytelling and philosophical speculation places Heterotopia squarely within the canon of classic prog.

All of which returns us to the unique position this work occupies. Prog enjoyed a cultural moment back in the 70’s and, to a certain extent, the 80’s. Nowadays, progressive rock of this kind caters to a niche audience. The type of prog that Schooltree is offering will doubtless please the faithful, but whether this particular delivery system will move the meter beyond the prog laity remains to be seen. It’s a Hero’s Journey, but the metaphysics are pretty abstract and the tone is very dark. Beneath the patina of mythological fantasy, Suzi’s tale involves what appears to be a standard dramatic arc tracing her fall, redemption, and resurrection, but it remains strangely suspended in a state of perpetual discord. Even when it reaches its conclusion, it sounds triumphant and the music signals resolution, but you’re left with lingering questions. Is this just one giant metaphor for Suzi’s alchemical transformation from the nigredo to the albedo? It’s possible. Suzi’s transformation is obviously meant to be a profound shift, but there’s something slightly underwhelming about it. This is where Heterotopia tilts towards postmodernism. Schooltree herself says that the central idea is that “reality is an illusion”, and this insight is supposedly what liberated Suzi to shape her reality. This is a fairly standard postmodern premise, and it’s an idea that has been explored pretty extensively in every corner of the artistic world for some time.

However, none of these concerns detract from the heroic achievement of this record. There is a level of ambition and flat out artistic brilliance in this work that simply cannot be denied. If this sounds like your thing, buy it now.