Neo-Canterbury. A New Round

Infinity rally by David Gerstein

Inspired by eccentric breakthroughs of Canterbury scene, modern avant-garde rock is experiencing a renaissance.

by Alexandr ban4a Topilov

Progressive rock is known for a variety of assaults towards music. Oftentimes it carries excessive pathos. Moreover, it can raise its technical perfection to the rank of a cult, admiring one’s own virtuosity. It happens that artists are biulding monstrous or ridiculous concepts, saturate their work with pretentious esotericism and other inventions. But in the midst of prog-rock, stand out perfect diamonds. Among them are the Canterbury scene and the sub-genre that arose a little later, namely Rock in Opposition. Both are also considered avant-prog. The legacy of this bright phenomenon of the 20th century is the subject of this article.

The world of music never stands still. Genres are replaced by genres, the heyday of each style is expectedly followed by its decline. It is true when it comes to the blues, psychedelia, soul, jazz, club culture, hippie culture, punk rock. Progressive rock did not escape the same fate.

History, however, is a spiral thing, and the history of music is no exception. Around the year 2000, the currents that appeared in the second half of the past century began to resurrect one by one. Such revivals happened with the blues, and soul, and psychedelia. Of course, neo-prog has also appeared and it has become a significant phenomenon. So the appearance of neo-Canterbury was only a matter of time. And the time has finally come.

In the year 2020, ProgArchive, the world’s most influential resource for a domain we are talking about, recognized the debut album by the band Zopp from Nottingham, England, as the best prog album of the year. And already known bands like the Italians Homunculus Res or the Norwegians Needlepoint have been active for over a decade and have each released four or five albums of the purest Canterbury sound.

The ideas of Rock In Opposition (RIO) were elaborated by Jack O’the Clock and Regal Worm. Jack O’the Clock work in folk tradition with acoustic instruments, which are normally not intended for a rock band. A listener is going to encounter dulcimer, bassoon and other exotica. At the same time, the band often makes magical experiments with the deconstruction of compositions a la Henry Cow. It is noteworthy that the front-man Damon Waitkus considers Fred Frith his spiritual guide. One may call this music Folk In Opposition.

Jerrod Gossling (aka Regal Worm) is one of the neo-RIO flagships. He has been busy with his merciless avant-psycho-prog attack on the listener since 2012. Imagine analog synths, mellotrons of all stripes and other devices all involved in his deeds. As a result, the sound every time shows new incarnations of something cosmic and archaic.

The Canterbury Scene and RIO are now experiencing a worldwide renaissance. Interestingly enough, the best examples of the Canterbury sound are found quite far from Kent. But does it matter? Hardly. Only one thing is important, that nowadays fresh avant-prog releases from new bands are coming to life. And often it is inhumanly beautiful matter. So let’s check out some of the greatest things.

Oiapok – OisoLun (2023)

🇫🇷 Although the year has just begun, this debut album by the French band Oiapok, released on February 9, is surely one of the most impressive albums of modern avant-prog. It’s incredibly powerful, solid and beautiful work with a bewildering abundance of beautiful musical ideas, executed with the utmost delicacy and inventiveness. The lyrics are filled with esoteric meanings and environmental matter. Notice the bizarre array of instruments featured on the recording, including two trombones, marimba and vibraphone.

Mixing and some keys parties are performed by Paolo Ske Botta, a well-known tamer of Canterbury stuff. Previously he collaborated with the cult Italian band Yugen, famous for crossing RIO with chamber music.

Get this album at bandcamp | spotify | deezer | apple | youtube

Greco Bastián – With A Little Hell From My Friends (2022)

🇲🇽 Greco Bastian is a notable representative of the Acapulco underground scene. Despite the fact that he has been writing music since 2010, his first album was released only in 2019. This has become a high-profile event for a narrow audience. He is said to have accumulated over two hundred tracks. They also say, he is still looking for a label to release all this stuff. “With A Little Hell From My Friends”, released at the very end of the year, is replete with great guest musicians.

This album is a perfect brilliant. This is a mind-blowing party with a devastating flurry of RIO and avant-prog. Every second everything changes, turns over, deconstructs and lines up into incredible kaleidoscope with fireworks of musical creativity. Here you will find a merciless prog massacre in the spirit of Present, Magma and Frank Zappa. Absolutely insane record of superhuman strength.

Get this album at bandcamp | spotify | deezer | apple | youtube | yandex

De Lorians – De Lorians (2019)

A stunning debut dated the year 2019. It is best utilized when paired with subsequent EP “That’s Life” (not available yet at most platforms at the time of this writing). Please welcome a quintet from Tokyo which gathered back in 2016.

It sounds like a bastard child of Zappa’s Uncle Meat and the third Soft Machine. Excellent thing with jam improvisations and authentic sound, seasoned with extremely clear musical guidelines and ideas.

Get this album at bandcamp | spotify | deezer | apple | youtube | yandex

Schnauser – Altra Seccatura (2022)

🇬🇧 Here is the seventh album by the Schnauser band from Bristol. By the way, it’s the cutest name for a band in the history of rock music, isn’t it? And this is absolutely beautiful record at the intersection of psychedelic pop and Canterbury-flavored prog.

Initially, Alan Strawbridge has been creating completely different music. However, it was no less weird and melodic at the same time. It is believed that arrival of keyboardist Duncan Gammon was the turning point of the group. Being a big fan of analog synthesizers and the Canterbury scene of the 70s, he focused on arrangements and musical detail. Then came Jasper Williams, a new drummer, who’s fond of Pip Pyle / Bill Bruford school.

Finally, 5 years ago saxophonist Dino Christodoulou joined the permanent line-up. He colored Schnauser’s riffs and brought kind of goofing in the spirit of Gong to the group’s sound. What they produce is gorgeous avant-pop prog on the verge of a masterpiece.

Get this album at bandcamp | spotify | deezer | apple | youtube

Guranfoe – Gumbo Gumbo (2022)

🇬🇧 Despite the fact that this is only the second album of the British act Guranfoe, they have already been around for ten years. You may find a bunch of their live performances at bandcamp.

Apparently, the teamwork and mutual understanding of the band’s musicians is at the highest level. Musically, they don’t come up with anything new, they just bring down the most complex prog material with characteristic shades of Zappa’s thinking. Guranfoe are themselves big fans of Zappa and they cover various Frank’s compositions, including not the simplest ones at, their concerts. Canterbury, however, flourishes as well.

These guys are easily dealing with rich and technical instrumental parties with constant changes in rhythm, size, melodic pattern and everything that might be changed in a musical composition in an extremely short time.

Get this album at bandcamp | spotify | deezer | apple | youtube | yandex

Zopp – Dominion (2023)

🇬🇧 This is the second album from the Nottingham based band led by Ryan Stevenson, who wrote all the material. After the warm reception of the resounding self-titled debut, the entire prog community has been waiting for this release with bated breath. Within “Dominion”, Stevenson expanded the scope of the “pure clean Canterbury sound” by embellishing the sound with vocals.

Alas, “Dominion” is significantly inferior to its predecessor. The new incarnation didn’t do any good, the vibes and magic that filled the first album are now gone away. Instead, certain pathos appeared, and inevitable turn to some kind of musical platitudes. At the end, it resulted in pomposity which the auditory has been always not appreciating when it comes to prog rock.

The same direction is true for the most of modern neo-prog. It was these qualities that were so skillfully circumvented by the representatives of Canterbury and RIO in the 70s, with the help of humor and absurdity. So do neo-Canterbury and neo-RIO actors it our days. Their work can be considered anything but not boring and banal.

Get this album at bandcamp | spotify | deezer | apple | youtube

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