Prog, Prog-Adjacent And Technically Prog I Suppose

Terraformer (Thank You Scientist, 2019)

My proper introduction to the genre, about 90 minutes of largely catchy and positive tracks with an overarching theme of Aliens and the paranormal. As usual for the band, the lyrics are… well, let’s settle on “they’re there”. I like them more for their overall sound. My favorite tracks are the semi-opener FXMLDR, the apparently obligatory instrumental intermission Chromology and the closing Terraformer.

The Man Who Never Was (This Winter Machine, 2017)

The debut album of the group1; slightly less than an hour long. The eponymous opening track comes in at a respectable 16 minutes and fills them well. I also choose to shoehorn trans imagery into lyrics like this:

i have a photograph of my memory
too many people know this person as me
another stranger that i tried to ignore
confusing who i am with what happened before
taking me through the cold and the rain
making it hard to remember my name

You have no one to blame but yourselves, This Winter Machine. The next track is honestly boring, save for one couplet that always sticks around in the back of my mind:

lights you thought would guide you
were the lights to almost blind you

Two more tracks follow, they’re okay. The finale, Fractured, is well worth the ten minutes it takes to listen to, but has kinda weird lyrics. Oh well. Still, a solid recommendation.

Cygnus X-1 (Rush, 1998)

This technically isn’t an album but just two songs that coincidentally share the same name and a common storyline. Together, Book I: The Voyage and Book II: Hemispheres are seconds away from half an hour and tell the story of a space traveller that really wants to get torn into bits by Cygnus X-1 (Black Hole)2. The narrator proceeds to do just that and, well, dies. Book II then starts with exposition on the society that produced said astronaut, then rejoins them as they discover that… well, spoilers.
The sound is terrific, the content is, as one would expect, written by Rush.

The Dark Third (Pure Reason Revolution, 2006)

Another debut album! Well, not quite. I can find things from this band dated before 2006, but just how official they’re supposed to be is even less clear than the audio quality on them. This album clocks in at around one and a half hours, about ten minutes of which is absolute silence. That’s intentional, apparently, and an artifact of Ye Olde Times In Whence There Were CDs You Forgot To Turn Off Immediately After The Last Song Had Apparently Finished.

The Dark Third is an album about dreams, whether utopian visions, barely coherent fever dreams, or outright nightmares. The title of the album itself is a direct reference to sleep: the eight hours of sleep you haven’t gotten recently are the dark third of each 24-hour day.

This album contains what i think is my all-time favorite track in this subgenre of prog, The Twyncyn/Trembling Willows. As the song’s title suggests, it’s split into two parts. I: The Twyncyn’s deeply distressed lyrics about “stark light and … their mauled eyes” are first accompanied by a calm score that lets you notice the lyrics’ incremental loss of coherence and descent into a mantra before the atmosphere radically shifts into the high-stress environment of II: Trembling Willows — the lyrics are a near-inscrutable, highly paratactic list of disturbing images at this point: “Lights were on the table leading upward to the scars”, “Confused, distort, the vague breath sways / The wandering spheres, the coral caves”, increasingly veering off into the supernatural and start suggesting some eldritch influence (“Give them power, upheaval, sinking fists and their ancient designs / Build them towers”). There’s a recurring theme of the fear of the loss of one’s own mental capabilities and institutionalization (“Carry away this head! / You can’t find an illness for this?”), also repeated as a mantra. Similar fears appear in other tracks on the album.

The Twyncyn/Trembling Willows explores a mind that is aware of its own deterioration and accordingly spends its brief periods of lucidity in utter terror, while the non-lucid parts try to grapple with the increasing loss of function in their own distorted dark dream-logic ways. It’s beautiful and terrifying.

Apart from this, the album also has highlights like Borgens Vor3, In Aurélia (more fever dreams!), and The Bright Ambassadors of Morning (12 minutes). Of course, other parts are weaker; Goshen’s Remains, The Exact Color, or Voices In Winter/In The Realms Of The Divine just don’t engage me. Overall a gleaming recommendation, though.

Eupnea (Pure Reason Revolution, 2020)

Well, as it turns out that band wasn’t actually dead. They came back with this album after nearly 10 years of silence. It’s definitely a good restart; the album starts out with the fairly short (five minutes) New Obsession, whose fairly gentle musical backing fluidly morphs into the following track Silent Genesis, which is both almost two times as long and way more intense in its instrumentals. Out of the next three tracks, only Ghosts & Typhoons really strikes me as particularly memorable. The final track Eupnea boasts the first trivially understandable lyrics on the album and tells the story of a troubled premature birth with Pure Reason Revolution’s usual talent for coming up with rich lyrics that communicate emotion beyond the actual content expressed.

Deadwing (Porcupine Tree, 2005)

Deadwing is supposed to be some sort of surreal ghost story, as Wikipedia4 tells us. Other than the first track i don’t think it’s particularly spooky or even just tangentially ghost-related though. Maybe they actually meant just the first track, because, surprise, it is also called Deadwing5.

That aside, i’d heartily recommend that opening track, for similar reasons like The Twyncyn above. Aside from it, Arriving Somewhere But Not Here definitely is this album’s second “main” track, and its twelve minutes are the most beautiful rendition of someone being murdered that i’ve had the pleasure of hearing. It’s so good that i’ll actually give you a link to listen right now: Arriving Somewhere But Not Here on YouTube.

More from Porcupine Tree

This band has made quite a few albums, and i usually like a select few of their tracks from each, so i’m smushing them together here. I like them for their — i believe — fairly unique blend of lyrics that talk about highly emotional and dark themes like depression, rape, and suicide, with empathy, combined with backing music that doesn’t exploit the topics for extraneous drama either.

Signify (1996) is kind of rough around the edges6, but has a few excellent spots in Sever, “Light Mass Prayers” (instrumental), or Intermediate Jesus. Their last published album The Incident (2009) is too frayed and disorganized for my taste.

Porcupine Tree has made quite a few songs about things they don’t like, and i’ll all heartily recommend them and their melodic soundscapes of disdain: Every Home Is Wired (Signify, 1996) takes on the internet and the effects its repetitiveness has on its users, The Sound of Muzak (In Absentia, 2002) is substantially less oblique attack on the music industry, and Halo (Deadwing, 2005) does the same to organized religion.

  1. Since then, they’ve been dead. Well, they released one more album, but … i can’t find any more info on it beyond them having released it. Also their website evaporated.↩︎

  2. From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia↩︎

  3. Not to be confused with the earlier The Borgens Vow, which is instrumental and appears in the background of this track↩︎

  4. The Free Encyclopedia, in case you’d forgotten↩︎

  5. Brief rant, what exactly drives bands to release tracks that are e p o n y m o u s with their album? I’m getting semantic saturation from just thinking about the word while writing this page. It’s annoying, but also nearly everyone does it. In my collection, almost two thirds of Proper Albums do this.
    For the love of all that is holy, be more creative with your titles, and if you think an album is really just defined by that one song maybe consider releasing it separately and giving the others a fair chance too. Gahhh what is wrong with people.↩︎

  6. i hate The Sampled Announcer Voice, it’s an incredibly cheap trick.↩︎