Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Favorite 21st Century Canterbury Music

Though Canterbury Scene as a sub genre of Progressive Rock music refers to a very specific group and style of music, it is not necessarily intended to recuse any musicians who have been inspired to make this "type" of music since the 1970s from doing so. There have, however, been only a handful of musicians who have felt so inspired--and equally as few in the 21st Century. Below I have outlined the few bands that have managed to evoke the Canterbury sound or feel in their music according to how overtly and obvious their familiarity is.

Fully Evocative of the Canterbury Sound

HOMUNCULUS REZ is a band from Italy whose debut album, 2013's Limiti all'equalianza della parte con il tutto, offers wild and humorous musical stylings that definitely evoke that light, airy Canterbury feeling. Heirs apparent to the great Italian Canterbury artitst, PICCHIO DAL POZZO, all the songs here are short and quirky in the style of SOFT MACHINE, HATFIELD AND THE NORTH, and MATCHING MOLE. Filled with wonderfully memorable melodies and some quite demanding compositions, this is definitely one of the best, if not the best, Canterbury-style albums I've ever heard.

Their 2015 follow-up, a concept album about a trip to a hospital continues the Canterbury style and features many guests from other prominent Italian and American bands, like The Muffins' Dave Newhouse, Picchio dal Pozzo's Aldo di Scalzi, Paolo "SKE" Botta, Regal Worm, and Alco Frisbass, but lacks a bit of the fresh feeling of fun and quirky spontaneity that their debut had.
     In early 2018 the band released their third album, Come si diventa ciò che si era. This one involving more of the quirk and fun of the debut with some sections of very sophisticated avant jazz thanks to collaborations with several jazz and avant artist friends. Still very true to the Italianized version of Canterbury style music, I rate this album above the second but not quite as good as the debut.

MAGIC BUS is a band from Devon England that is 100% focused on recreating the Canterbury sound in every aspect of their production: music, lyrics, instrument choices, song titles, album art, web site, everything. And they do it very well! The songs are particularly evocative of the sound and stylings created by the first four or five albums by CARAVAN. 2014's excellent and gorgeous album Transmissions from Sogmore's Garden yielded some new classics in the Canterbury tradition

including the happy 60s anthem "Sunflower," "Morning Mantra," "Earthpod,"  and the CARAVAN-like "Cosmic Rays of Dawns," "Three Days," and "Ballad of Lord Sogmore." The album fared well enough on the Fishscales that it achieved a year-end ranking of #12. Let's hope that there is much more in the future to come from these happy nouveau hippies.

     In 2017 the band released a follow-up entitled Phillip the Egg. The album showed a slight deviation toward more West Coast flower-child psychedelia with a deceptive "stripped down sophistication," that is, employing admirable restraint within the disciplined instrumental sections. While the album did not earn as high of a score as Transmissions (87.81 to 90.0), it still made it into my year-end top 50 (#43). "Fading to Light" (3:36), "Zeta" (4:34,) and "Yantra Tunnels" (5:04) are particular high points for me.

ANTIQUE SEEKING NUNS is a band of young musicians out of Oxford, England, who began with an intense interest in reviving the fun and pop-jazzy music of the Canterbury Era of England's Sixties and Seventies. They put out three excellent EPs in the space of six years, 2003-3009,

Mild ProfunditiesDouble Egg with Chips and Beans, and Careful! It's Tepid. The band eventually evolved beyond their original Canterbury leanings into their current form as SANGUINE HUM, which more fully embraces the Neo-Prog sub genre of musical stylings. Thus, with 2009's Careful! It's Tepid EP, the story of Antique Seeking Nuns seems to be a closed chapter in music history.

MANNA/MIRAGE  is the offshoot/remains of a failed reunion of Washington, D.C. AmeriCanterbury band, The Muffins. It is a project carried forward by Dave Newhouse, featuring Paul Sears, and Billy Swann of The Muffins, as well as Dave's son George, Steve Pastena, and Mark Stanley. They have released one album, in December of 2015, entitled Blue Dogs--an amazing, beautiful, nostalgic collection of songs.

AMOEBA SPLIT is from Spain. Their first album, from 2010, is Dance of the Goodbyes. Its

instrumentals sounds very much like the more melodic jazz offerings of later Soft Machine or HATFIELD & THE NORTH. When flutist, Maria Toro sings, the band tames itself to almost sound like they are accompanists to a torch song singer. Dance of the Goodbyes is made up of four songs of over ten minutes in length (one almost 24 minutes long) and two short songs.
     In 2016 a much welcomed and highly acclaimed second album was released called Second Split. Containing four long prog epics among the album's six instrumental songs, it represents a further maturation of the band's already dead-on Canterbury jazz leanings. Some great instrumental and compositional performances here with all songs being enjoyable and memorable. Violin, multiple horns/winds, chunky bass, jazzy ungated drums, and expert keys help represent the jazzier side of the Canterbury sound.

THE WINSTONS are a band of individually successful Italian pop musicians who decided to get together to create a fun prog rock album--much in the styles used by Robert Wyatt. In fact, there are three songs on their 2016 debut album that sound as if they came out of a vault of unpublished Robert Wyatt songs.

MOOGG is a band from Brescia, Italia, that has been around since about 2005 but only released two albums, 2011's amazing Le ore, i giorni, gli anni and 2016's Italian Luxury Style. A very jazz-oriented quartet in the vein of Hatfield and The North, the band also revels in the same quirk and humor of the original Canterburians.

Strongly Evocative of the Canterbury Sound

AMPLEDEED is band of young musicians hailing from a variety of California art schools who unwittingly began creating upbeat, somewhat jazzy and frolicky progressive rock music that just happens to sound quite a bit like it came from the Canterbury artists of the 1970s. I say "unwittingly" because the band had no idea what Canterbury music was or who any of the Canterbury artists were; this is just the honest outcome of their own musical tastes and desires for expression. And yet, here we are.

SETNA is French Zeuhl band whose music often expresses the sounds, stylings, and upbeat "frivolity" while maintaining a high standard of compositional complexity and musicianship compatible with the Canterbury label. A music listener with some familiarity with Canterbury style music, need only hear SETNA's music--especially its keyboard sounds and unusual song structures--in order to feel that "Canterbury" feel. It seems undeniable--as expressed by many reviewers of their albums.

SYD ARTHUR is a young band from Canterbury, Kent, who have been mentored and helped along the way by PAUL WELLER and others. The Weller influence is quite strong, the band has a folk and blues foundation and orientation which is heavily steeped in electronic treatments of their instruments and vocals. Also, though the band has/had a predilection toward longer songs, with strung out psychedelia instrumental jam sections (á la THE AMAZING) their album producers have pulled in the reins and effected some "surprising" results. With only two full-length albums and two EP's under their belt, it remains to be seen where these lads will evolve.

     A 2017 release, Apricity, proved highly disappointing as the band chose to leave their Canterbury leanings in favor of more Paul Weller sounds and styles.

VIOLETA DE OUTONO is a Brazilian combo that have been playing together since the 1980s. Their sound has always contained a feel of the Canterbury sound, even going back to their self-titled 1987 debut release--which also showed very strong influences of both the straightforward minimalism of Punk Rock (you can hear the sounds and riffs of bands like THE POLICE and THE GO-GO's in the stylings of the bass and drums), the psychedelia of San Francisco in the guitar, and even a little of the technological smoothness of New Wave eras. PINK FAIRIES also come to mind. From the beginning singer- songwriter Fabio Golfetti has had a voice that just cries out "KHAN" (more Nick Greenwood than Steve Hillage). Others have compared his vocal talents to those of ROBERT WYATT, as well.
     Though Fabio took a break from the band in the 1990s to dedicate his energies to his Invisible Opera project--a project that he conceived with the help and encouragement (and some contribution) of Canterbury founder DAEVID ALLEN, a Violeta de Outono reunion with the original threesome (singer-guitarist Fabio Golfetti, bass & keyboard player Angelo Pastorello and drummer Claudio Souza) at the end of the 90s produced the 1999 album Woman on the Mountain. The band has subsequently morphed with changing lineups for the release of 2005's Ilhas (gone is Claudio), 2007's Volume 7 (gone is Angelo, back is Claudio Souza) and 2012's Espectro (my personal Album of the Year for that year--on which Fabio is the only remaining member from the founding trio).
     I tell people that if you like the sound and spirit of KHAN's Space Shanty then you should check out Violeta de Outono.

     A late 2016 release called Spaces came out to highly favorable reviews but failed to 'wow' me with anything new or innovative; it sounded and felt like good, solid Violeta de Outono.

INNER EAR BRIGADE is an American band out of the San Francisco Bay area whose quirky, jazzy music definitely falls under the umbrella of Canterbury-sounding music--though, with the presence of female lead vocalist, the band take on a bit more of the COS/HATFIELD AND THE NORTH branch of the Canterbury jazz sound. Their 2014 debut, Rainbro, is an excellent album of jazzy-poppy quirk and sophistica.

     The band's 2017 release, Dromology, showed a very positive evolution: tighter structures, stronger melodies, improved band cohesion and more mature song constructs--as well as outstanding sound engineering and production. There is slightly more jazz and avant-jazz feel and slightly less quirky Canterburian pop feel to these songs, but it is definitely a more consistently high quality album start to finish. It not only rated higher than its predecessor, it ended up in both of my Year-End Top 30s. 

Mildly Evocative of Canterbury Sound

THE NERVE INSTITUTE is the brain child of American musician. While THE NERVE INSTITUTE's music is not fully or always obviously in the Canterbury fold, it has many moments throughout it's 2015 album, Fictions that make the listener think "Canterburian."

ALCO FRISBASS is a new band out of France and Italy from Italy's AltrOck Productions record label that has produced on album (so far) of all-instrumental jazz music while using long-song formats (seven to twelve minutes). Like The Nerve Institute, Alco Frisbass's music is not totally imitative of Canterbury style music nor is it necessarily even Canterbury-centric, but there are many moments during the listening of each song that evoke the familiar Canterbury "feel."

SANGUINE HUM as mentioned above, Sanguine Hum is an evolution of Oxford musicians Matt Baber and Joff Winks away from their previous Canterbury infatuation. Despite the overt and obvious foray into the realms of NeoProg music, one can occasionally hear the odd Canterburian song or moment in the three studio albums they have released since 2009.

BEYOND-O-MATIC is an American band out of San Francisco that have been producing a kind of crossover music since the early 1990s. Their most recent release, 2013's Relations in the Border Between, has many moments and even a few full songs that evoke the Canterbury sound and feel--one of the few that travels into the realms floated through by Daevid ALLEN's GONG. Relations is well worth checking out: it's a great album!

Special Mentions:
At the end of the 1990s an American quartet from Athens, Georgia, calling themselves VOLARÉ recorded enough material to release two albums, 1997's The Uncertainty Principle and a retrospective of previously recorded music and demos in 1999 entitled Memoirs. There is very little mistaking the Canterbury sounds and feel to this music--though one might say it lacked some of the sharper, more experimental edges and humor than its British predecessors.

Also, in the 21st Century Italian prog rockers PICCHIO DAL POZZO resurfaced with a few albums--some of which were actually made from recordings from the 1970s--but those with new material show a straying from the Canterbury fold into more jazz and RPI territories.

Also, AmeriCanterburians from the 70s, THE MUFFINS, continued to produce albums throughout the 90s and Naughties--none of which I know nor have I heard, thus the reason for their exclusion from the above list on this page.

SOFT MACHINE LEGACY continued releasing jazz fusion albums into the 21st Century, even after the passing of Hugh Hopper in 2008. 2013's Burden of Proof is a bluesy jazz fusion release from remaining members John Etheridge on guitars, Roy Babbington on bass, John Marshall on drums and percussion and Theo Travis on woodwinds and keys. More jazz than Canterbury, their music is still a nice listen.

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