Progessive rock is not normally on the menu here at Bad Sounds Magazine. While practiced by long-haired retro freaks across the globe, it lacks the chart busting shazam it used to in the 1970’s. Like free jazz, its often frowned upon by music critics, who supposedly only worship garage rock cassette demos. Envy and hate surface quickly, any sucker can twang rusty power chords into the tape deck, but to play progressive rock you have to have major technical skills. We return to the old quarrel of heartfelt missteps versus carefully planned rhythms and chord changes. Sure, most of my favorite records are poorly recorded by folks who tend to miss notes and sing off key. I also wish instant death upon every person who brings up the fact members Dream Theater have doctorates. A diploma hardly matters if you can only write pretensious shit. Then again, when I discovered Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull a decade ago rearranging my father’s vinyl, and instantly fell in love. The Classics from the 70’s and I still see each other on a regular basis.
The Chronicles of Father Robin might not have the most catchy name, but they certainly tug at my old progressive heartstrings. In true prog fashion, this record only has two tracks. Side A contains the 16 minute “Twilight Fields” and side B has the slightly more moderate “The Ritual of the Beneficial Ancestor”, clocking in at 7:29. It takes a lot of balls/ovaries to come blasting onto the scenes with tracks this long. The youth of today would certainly yell “booooring” after about 3 minutes. Attention spans have not increased since 1975, unlike medication dosages for attention deficit disorder.
TCFR are not in a hurry, they spent 20 (!) years as a band before they released this record. That must be a record of some kind. It should have given them enough time to nail down their sound. I am glad these merry lads keep the metal at arms length and focus instead on the old school elements of the genre. After only a few minutes spent with “Twiligth Fields” we are already introduced to the Hammond organ and the flute, old favorites of mine. The presence of the flute makes it impossible to ignore Jethro Tull as a source of inspiration. I am thinking of the records Minstrel in the Gallery and Thick as a brick. As the speedy organ gallop gives way to some mellow acoustic picking and careful spacey bass, you can heard Pink Floyd and King Crimson very clearly. The vocals are slightly elvish, high and almost close to breaking at times. The lyrics overflow with nectar of dreamflowers and elixirs, I can feel the urge to throw a D12. This is prog by the (spell)book.
The production is quite excellent, instruments drift in and out of the mix to keep the track interesting. The wide range of retro keys are especially impressive. The interplay between the xylophone and a huffing and puffing organ at 6 minutes in is a tasty little bite. Slower mellow acoustic parts are followed by distorted gallops of a slightly more heavy metal style. Listening to the whole track a few times through, I find that I prefer the former. Like the delicate ethereal soundplay at 13:20, where minstrel-style picking fades into a modest bass solo followed by sea sounds. I don’t know if those whale sound cd’s are still popular with the new age crowd, but if the members of TCFR are reading this: You might wanna tap into that market. Pay me if it works out. Oooooooooooooooom.
“The ritual of the Beneficial Ancestor” shows a different side of the band. Their “B” side, if you will. Purely instrumental, it carries a sense of light guitar drone, done with a very clean sounding guitar. It reminds me of the later works of Earth. The mood is pure Norwegian forest, light flutes and samples from what sounds like people wading through rivers and hooting night owls. With proper headphones, this track is pure ear porn. Takes you away in an instant. Even though the contrast between side A and B might be a little too extreme when it comes to nailing the bands sound down, I am very much in love with this instrumental track.
As a whole, I am impressed. I had grown so tired of all this neo-soul and 80’s synth pop revival. This record does not tread new ground by any means, but it is a well thought-up homage to the sounds of the old masters done with a lot of heart. The whole concept (lyrics, lore and fantasy world included) might be a little too grandiose and silly for the common man, but it holds true to the style.
If this sounds appealing to you, I am sure the vinyl is still available through the band’s web site. They also promise to release a special box set in 2014 with triple vinyl, two cds and a 12 page booklet with artwork, you might want to save up your money for that one if this floats your boat. Meanwhile, there are full songs up for listen through their website. Keep on rockin’ in the prog world.