Friday, November 03, 2006

Yes, Man: The Prog Rock Rules


Ah, Yes……the name alone conjures up images of wizards and warriors, centaurs and ligors. While Yes will be remembered as a band that put a tremendous amount of effort into creating their own mystical universe of (often lame) prog-rock possibilities, they seem to be enjoying a rather modest relevancy upswing in contemporary experimental and underground music these days (even Pitchfork gives a partial nod to some of their stuff). Perhaps the reason that some of their work can be considered worthy of discussion today is because Yes were not a band of songs or albums, but one of moments. Despite their unimaginable capacity for lameness (they wrote a 20 minute song based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace for fuck's sake) Yes possessed the ability to compose incredibly beautiful and interesting music that shouldn’t be ignored or entirely dismissed as laughably ironic fodder.

Before we proceed, I should say that I know very little about the incarnation of Yes that may or may not be touring as we speak, but for the purposes of this entry I will continue to refer to them in the past tense. Yes' influence on modern day critical darlings has been well documented (Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Akron Family), and many of the hipper than shit bands that bloggers often rave about clearly continue to experiment with structure,meter, melody and harmony in ways similar to what Yes was doing way back when. But whether or not they realize it, the more today's bands push the envelope, the more they run the risk of being compared to progressive rock, or more crudely put, “Prog Rock."

And just what the hell is “Prog Rock” anyway? Progressive Rock has evolved into a muddled, distorted concept that seems to have even less meaning than it once did. After all, how exactly does one define“progress” in art or music? I’m not trying to be facetious here either... just think about it. The lamest of all “Prog Rock” wankers (Dream Theatre, Rush) may in fact view their musical progress much the same way that a fascist would admire Michaelangelo’s work for simply being more anatomically correct than more "inferior" works... in other words, the antithesis of the concept of "progress" by most modern measures of the term.

At last week's Chief Death Rage show, I was reminded once again of how some prog elements are making their way into the music scene and gaining relevance amongst more forward thinking musicians. Although quite a bit more heavy than anything Yes ever produced, CDR’s songs swayed back and forth in between stop time riffs, subtle half step modulations and wild rhythm changes, all of which were executed with the acute precision of, well, a prog rock band. Take Rush’s “Cygnus X-1” and Black Sabbath’s, “Black Sabbath” and your somewhere close……I think. The truth is that “Progressive Rock” becomes an outdated term when you consider the high level of experimentation going on in the areas of song structure, rhythm and sonic texture today. The traditional “progressive”definition could possibly encompass a gaggle of artists too broad to be lumped together, rendering it all but useless. As the musical universe expands outward, the word “progressive” will become increasingly irrelevant and silly, and this is probably for the best.

Having said that, Yes were the quintessential pioneers of original “progressive”music, whatever it might mean, so we should probably take a closer look at a few Yes moments that somehow distinguish themselves from the lunacy of the band's overarching collective persona. UNT jazz school drop out stoner kids, eat your heart out.

First, let’s go over some rules before listening to Yes music:

1) Ignore the lyrics, they’re complete shit
2) Ignore the song titles, they're beyond pretentious
3) Ignore any and all roman numeral demarcations for their“compositions”……sigh
4) Pay attention to the production, its usually stellar for its time period and sounds great on vinyl

And now, the top 3 Yes moments:

1) Starship Trooper: 4:14 to 5:00- This is Yes at their pinnacle, with great harmonies and a bassline melody that compliments the vocals. The drums almost emphasize melody more than rythm, which is an early Yes staple. Keep listening, this song has a wild conclusion with dueling stereo guitar solos and Bonhamesque bass drum triplets! MP3

2) Heart of the Sunrise: 0:30 to 2:03- Maybe one of the most dramatic build-ups in rock music history. This song will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has seen Buffalo 66. I'm not sure what kind of keyboards they used for this track, but they sound brilliant. MP3 (this is the right one now)

3) South Side of the Sky: 5:50 to end- The guitar and bass riffs are killer. Easily the heaviest song Yes ever wrote, and one of their best. MP3

(This is Howard Bob Johnson's first post for WSJR, and he will be a regular contributor covering everything from local music to Dream Theater's fashion choices.)-SR

15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Bruford. Gimme King Crimson or give me death. Way more consistent catalogue. Lark's Tongue in Aspic. Nuff Said.

11:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is that you, mom?

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wait no she likes owner of a lonely heart

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I think of prog rock, I think of dissonant chords and unconventional time signatures.

7:02 AM  
Blogger DTC said...

when you mentioned yes, the first thing i thought of was that bit from starship trooper. probably the finest hour in a mostly bullshit career.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Rudnicki said...

The link to the file for "Heart of the Sunrise" has "South Side of the Sky" as its file name. Just lettin' yas know...

10:05 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

oh thanks, we'll fix it.

10:27 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

the files are fixed now for those that would like to download.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

geoff!

12:22 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

yeah really, Yes sux. Can we talk about King Crimson, or early ELP, or 70-75 Genesis?

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

while it may be said there are many greater bands than yes..but yes,being a wick,definatley does not suck.so if some wicks don't suck and some suck are snicks then is it safe to say yes is a snick?

and i have exceptional taste in music.

1:13 PM  
Blogger kidko said...

I long for the days when such music was new to me. I heard some of your "moments" and heard some really inspiring things. I would get each new yes/crimson/elp/genesis album expecting greatness with a glimmer of hope that has since been shattered by horrible cheese wankiness moment after moment.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw Yes in Concert a long time ago. At the Hollywood Bowl.
Before most of you were born.
The original lineup (or close to it- Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire etc) shortly after their 3 disc live album "Yessongs" was released.

Moments.
Very, very long moments.
That's all I remember except they made ELP's "Brain Salad Surgery" tour seem downright exciting by comparison.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fuck elp, gimme ELO, baby........

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fuck elo, gimme ELP, baby........

2:14 PM  

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