So, just yesterday I was listening to Progtology 101 and there was a bit of discussion on prog-snobbery as they streamed a bunch of prog music that apparently some fans turn their nose up towards. It made me reflect a bit on the scene and the ever present matter of “what makes prog prog.” With this in mind, I think there’s something very fresh about the following three records from Seven Impale, Camelias Garden, and Iamthemorning, albums that perhaps don’t always scream out prog in the most classic of Genesis/Yes ways, but albums that are nonetheless progressive and don’t shy away from sounding modern. Check’em out.

Seven Impale – Beginning / Relieve 

Seven Impale’s EP “Beginning/Relieve” caught me totally off guard. Perhaps the album cover was what threw me off; seeing a group of such young guys looking so fashionable gave me the instant impression of a bunch of hipsters or possibly scene kids and made me imagine an album with either whiny singing or anxty screams. How wrong I was to judge. Seven Impale delivers an absolutely brilliant and remarkably fresh batch of songs that wildly combines elements of prog, jazz, heavy rock, and avantgarde tendencies. I hear something that sounds a bit like the guitar from Mastodon (throw away all annoying aspects of that band), a giant load of fascinating rhythmic structures and some sax that adds just the right textures and doesn’t get out of hand for a very entertaining and aggressive jazzrock gig. “Blind to All” quickly caught my attention with its catchy melodies and chaotic developments while “Beginning, Relieve” stood out for its dense soundscapes. The EP suddenly takes a different direction with “Measure 15,” a short vocal/guitar/strings piece that feels a bit more launched out of the indie music crowd before transitioning into the album closer where the vocal feel of “Measure 15” slowly transitions its way back into the heavy, gritty jazzrock which characterizes the rest of the album. Well, now that we’ve seen the EP, and a fascinating one at that, who’s ready for the album? I am.

Camelia’s Garden – You Have a Chance

Honestly, the first snippets I heard of Camelias Garden a few months back initially turned me off. I don’t know what it was, perhaps all I immediately noticed was a lot of acoustic guitar and soothing vocals, the combination of which often makes me turn and bolt out the door. Then I heard it again and this time decided to sit down and actually spend some quality time with the album. The end impression I was left with this time was a whole different story. Yes, there are plenty of acoustic guitars and soothing vocals, many of which I still don’t quite fall head over heels for, but I never really noticed how important and nuanced the prog influences are for this album. For example, songs like “Dance of the Sun” come off as both nostalgic and modern in the best of ways with smart arrangements of classic prog sounds combined with catchy as heck melodies. The subtle mellotron textures and analogue synth tidbits show that this music is more than just poppy melodies. The back to back instrumental pieces, “We All Stand in Our Broken Jars” and “A Safe Heaven” add a bit of otherwordliness to the record, while “Clumsy Grace’s” chord changes cause wonderful and delicate shifts in mood. The highlight of the album, “Mellow Days” lays out a first class prog journey, weaving out gorgeously intertwining passages of Mellotron, folk, and symphonic rock that will leave most of us captivated. If you love this album at first, great. If you don’t, give it a chance; I think it’ll grow on you like it has on me and end up being a very satisfying listen.

Iamthemorning -Iamthemorning

The Saint Petersburg  based ensemble Iamthemorning grew out of conservatory pianist Gleb Kolyadin and self-taught vocalist Marjana’s vision of a neoclassical indie band influenced by progressive rock and composers such as Debussy, Chopin, and Phillip Glass. The result is pretty interesting, although for some prog fans it might come as an acquired taste. Essentially what we get here are very light, breathy vocals with a tendency towards catchiness, songs that are very songy contrasted with instrumentation which is almost exclusively classical ensemble and serves up a delightful sound palette that differs from your standard band. Tracks such as the opener, “Inside” let us know what this album is about from the get-go with its combination of light vocals with chamber instrumentation featuring strings, harp, piano, and a variety of other things. “Weather Changing” portrays a slight Celtic feel while “Touching II” serves up loads of pizzicato strings as a fine background to cool interval leaps on the vocals and an intense interlude of aggressive 16th note chords changes created by the ensemble. One of my personal favorites, “L.B. Too,” grants us a bit of quirky  listening with dynamic and powerful instrumentation. As an added bonus there are seven tracks entitled “Intermission” which essentially are a series of absolutely gorgeous instrumental piano pieces with small support from the ensemble. If you’re into prog but have an itching for something a bit more casual, Iamthemorning would be a good one to check out.