Five Songs Between 10 and 30 Minutes Long

Yes, the latest installment, except this time with interesting parameters. I like long songs. Here are some…

Yes – Gates of Delirium (21:56)

Relayer (1974)

Yes released a lot of music in the early seventies, and since mainstream revisionist media has painted so many bands from this era as somehow irrelevant because they liked long complicated songs with atypical structures, Yes have been demonised for their attempts to go beyond rock and roll’s original parameters. Without wanting to sound like the prog geek I totally am, if their answer to the bloated over-reaching excess of prog was punk, then colour me unimpressed.

Enough of that defensive stance, down to the song. This is apparently inspired by War and Peace. I’ve never read War and Peace, and I don’t expect I ever will. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Yes hadn’t read it either. Musically, Gates of Delirium is song of three sections.

  1. A long opening section which builds in intensity, though not in volume.
  2. A long INCREDIBLE instrumental battle between keyboards and guitar that gets loud and noisy with clattering percussion all over the place.
  3. A slow and highly pretty song called Soon tacked on at the end, offering a respite from the preceding mayhem.

Only downside, production-wise, the version on Relayer is a bit wobbly. Live versions do it more justice, particuarly a version performed with full orchestra on the Yes Symphonic DVD. Yes, I said it.

Anyway, it’s really cool, mostly because it doesn’t rely on John Anderson’s pretty vocals until the end, and moves the band in a jazzier direction than they’re known for. Also, Rick Wakeman’s keyboards are swapped out for those of Patrick Moraz, whose style has more propulsive energy, and sounds less like he’s trying to imitate an orchestra or a platter of assorted cheeses.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls (20:43)

Yanqui UXO (2002)

Now here’s a band who really knew how to make an racket of unholy awesomeness.

This is an instrumental song which consists of a series of ultra-simple repeating motifs with altogether too much reverb and tremolo. There, I just summed up GYBE’s entire career, and also the majority of post-rock…

Okay okay, in all seriousness, this song is the aching sound of pent-up frustration and anger contracting itself into a tight little ball, unwinding and rewinding itself several times before finally exploding in angular blasts of beautiful ugly-as-fuck screeching guitars and falling into a quiet whisper. It’s the soundtrack to history of modern western society.

I also like the clever pun in the name.

Asva – A Trap for Judges (23:57)

What You Don’t Know is Frontier (2008)

My love for Asva is no secret. This is Asva’s longest released track to date. So naturally I love it. It basically consists, as do most Asva songs, of simple repeating melodies, performed in unison on multiple instruments, with appropriately slow percussive punctuation (not just with drums). The difference here is, this song carries a very odd vibe, with strange effects and a surprising emphasis on harmonically rich synth drones. It conjures up images of cosmic scale, and drags drone doom into the 21st century. This sounds like planets forming, it sounds like dying suns expanding into red giants, it sounds like an ancient alien starship carrying its well preserved long dead crew toward inevitable oblivion. It sounds like awesome.

And then a wonderful dissolve into an extended coda on a huge pipe organ, the air it’s pushing out blowing across your face like a cold breeze, somehow transforming the pain and anguish of the preceding music into hope, even joy. Now that’s what I call music motherfucker, and you can quote me on that.

Old Man Gloom – Zozobra (27:19)

Seminar III: Zozobra (2001)

There’s not a lot I can say about this that I haven’t already. It’s clever, it’s skull-crushingly heavy, it’s Old Man Gloom. The weirdest movie samples you ever heard bookend its sections, each a beautiful study in repetition. Cyclical riffs, pounding drums, a small choir of screaming vocals, and some of the most cathartic chord progressions ever heard. Absolutely flawless, I without question call this the single greatest piece of music yet recorded this millennium, potentially the greatest in my lifetime.

Emerson Lake & Palmer – Pirates (13:22)

Works Volume I (1977)

Everything I said about yes applies to ELP. Except that ELP are more deserving of criticism, because musically they were extremely bombastic. Then again, what’s wrong with a little bombast? Carmina burana anyone?

This is a song which has two potential problems that propel it precariously close to preposterous pomposity a) it’s about pirates b) it’s ELP+Orchestra. And yet, unlike ALL modern pirate-themed bands (which are without exception, abominable), this is a romantic tale that really does the topic justice, without any comic “ooh-ahrs” or talk of broadsides and land-lubbers. It has the grandeur and the poise of a classic pirate movie. Like Pirates of the Caribbean without a sense of humour. Or the supernatural.

Lyrically, it’s very articulate and expressive, something ELP were not known for, and the words are delivered with aplomb by Greg Lake – his best recorded performance to my ears. Musically, it’s an epic orchestral score with Carl Palmer’s drumming driving it along. Emerson’s keys are less pervasive, only appearing intermitantly thoughout the first section. A section in the latter half drops the orchestra a bit, to let ELP do their thing. There could easily have been a huge mess with this, the band and orchestra going full tilt at the same time, but thankfully they’re both given room to shine, and they integrate much better than you’d think. Or than I’d think anyway.

At the end of the day, this is probably the best thing ELP ever did, although I am quite fond of the much maligned 30 minute Karn Evil 9. This deserves a listen without the prejudice of the media’s hatred for all things excessive in rock and roll.

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