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David Fricke on 2017’s Best Prog Reissues

Can’s complete singles, a massive King Crimson box and more

David Fricke on the Best Year's New Prog Reissues

David Fricke runs down the year's best prog reissues, including a Can singles collection and a massive King Crimson box set.

Giving prog for Christmas? It is not an outrageous idea. In the reissues sweepstakes, where obscured-stories-richly-told beat size and celebrity every time, progressive rock is a booming industry. What follows are seven of the best archival releases in the field, of varying depth and focus, from a banner year.

Art Zoyd, 'Live and Unreleased Works'

Art Zoyd, ‘Live and Unreleased Works’

Formed in Valenciennes, France, in 1969, Art Zoyd were wide of the mainstream from the start, then went further out – dropping rock instrumentation (guitars, drumming) and songwriting conventions; fusing chamber music, electronic advance and a leftist-political edge as a member of the prog alliance Rock in Opposition; finding composing and conceptual vigor in soundtracks, ballets and film scores. Art Zoyd’s official discography is big enough for a vault-like box of its own. Live and Unreleased is an invigorating immersion in their parallel history of live, TV and radio recordings across 12 CDs and two DVDs. The earliest performances, from the late Seventies, are a fury of experiment and avant-rock drive descended from the British inspiration of King Crimson and Henry Cow. More recent work, including a full 2015 concert retrospective on one DVD, documents Art Zoyd’s unbroken pursuit of a new modernism beholden to no genre, still a rock in opposition. 

Unicorn, Blue Pine Trees

Unicorn, ‘Blue Pine Trees’; ‘Too Many Crooks’; ‘One More Tomorrow’

In 1973, a young English band with one album and diminishing prospects took a job playing at a wedding. Among the guests: Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. He jammed on a Neil Young song with the group, Unicorn, and took a shine to its blend of progressive-country songwriting, jangling-Byrds guitars and three-part vocal harmonies. Gilmour brokered a deal for the band with the Floyd’s management; produced Unicorn’s 1974 album, Blue Pine Trees; and remained supportive even after the last of these three seductive albums, reissued in expanded form. The new version of 1977’s One More Tomorrow has a demo from two years later, taped at Gilmour’s home studio. Unicorn had as much California in their sound as English countryside. Think of the choral Crosby, Stills and Nash and the ballad Poco via the Floyd’s bucolic strains on Side One of 1971’s Meddle, the real-ale whimsey in the Canterbury band Caravan and Nick Lowe’s pub-rock songcraft for Brinsley Schwarz. Unicorn never made it that high and far but not for lack of friends or the lasting goods.

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