Soft Prog | Experimental and Smooth

One of the joys of record collecting is getting to create new taxonomies of music. Record stores do an passable (albeit subtly racist) job of organizing records so they’re easy to find, but most of them don’t do much to help create new connections and genres of music.

Every time we reorganize our records we create a new system before we start shuffling things around. The joy in the end is discovering cultural associations and musical connections that we didn’t know existed before. Suddenly artists we’d never connected to one another sit side by side on shelves. The gaps in our collection are exposed, and most excitingly, new genres emerge.

A genre I would love to see gain wide acknowledgment is Soft Prog. Soft Prog is (or should be) a cousin of traditional progressive rock, but with a decidedly smooth sensibility. Think about it like this: if there is a bleed on one end of the spectrum from early metal bands (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple) into prog groups (King Crimson, Jethro Tull), then soft prog would be the other end of prog that interfaces with smoother, “light” rock and “easy listening” (The Captain and Tennille or Barry Manilow for example).

As a fan of this wholly contrived genre, I’ve compiled a few examples below. They span from the early 70’s to the early 00’s. I’ll refrain from any amateur musicology that would attempt to articulate the common musical thread and instead let these songs do the work for me. Enjoy. Next up: Avant Soul.

10 CC | I’m not in Love

The Band | Whispering Pines

Roxy Music | Mother of Pearl

Alan Parsons Project | Eye in the Sky

Robert Fripp and Daryl Hall | North Star

Robert Wyatt | Shipbuilding

Sebastien Tellier | Universe

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Lounge Music and Subversion

I used to be fixated on an idea of making a kind of music that would explore ultraviolence, at a social level rather than an individual level (which is another topic). I thought of it as a conceptual exploration that could obviate any sort of “angry young man” music, my rationale being that a teenager flipping the bird or even a serial killer was absurd in the face of German tanks rolling into Poland. Now I’ve returned to an interest in subversion, but more in the subversion of personal identity specifically as we create spaces for ourselves within some sort of social/cultural/historical context. I don’t care about subverting “the Man”, I’m interested in art that subverts the self, (because, after all, aren’t we our own “the Man”?) Martin Denny encapsulates this very nicely for me.

I was first introduced to Martin Denny and “Exotic” music not in the context of the late nineties lounge kitsch revival (blech), but through Industrial culture. I remember seeing a book about his music in the local occult shop, sitting amid a shelf full of photocopied zines about radical body modification and BDSM. It couldn’t have been a starker contrast, and I guess that’s why I remember it specifically and the other publications on the shelf have been generalized into a slurried memory of pale emaciated people in leather exposing themselves.

Martin Denny’s music is of course the prototype for most of what we call lounge music. Judged by that context alone, it might strike you as comically banal. In fact, I’m not sure if his music is legitimately creepy or if its creepy because of my own introduction to it, which is the thing that interests me. The placid calmness of it is in such diametric opposition to the most brutally aggressive music that demands submission (see: Whitehouse, for example). Denny’s music is hypnotic, familiar and peculiar at the same time. Where aggression fails to intimidate me into submission, Denny coerces me, which is just as much about surrender of will.

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Is this the reason I am the way I am?

As a kid I loved the muppet show. I watched them as re-runs with my family. The Liberace episode first aired the year I was born, and for some reason it really resonated with me as a toddler. I think it might be my first memory of abjection. I remember being transfixed by the elegant Rococo bird dancers, but also horrified by their too-close-to-humanness—like muppets, but also like people. They are perfectly grotesque.

As if that wasn’t enough, the whole affair was conducted by a gay icon who effortlessly moved between high and low culture, but without the sort of sneering condescension of so much camp. I find it ironic that this phenomenally talented lover of all music has become a camp icon for people who have a very crude notion of what camp is. Regardless, Liberace is a hero of mine.

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