Yes- Close to the Edge (1972): 8 June 2020

Yes – Close to the Edge (1972)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re listening to one of the most significant albums in the prog rock genre, Close to the Edge by Yes. Close to the Edge came hot on the heels of 1971’s Fragile, but went with a completely different style than the earlier album. This album would be the band’s first foray into prog rock before firmly cementing themselves in the genre with the follow-up album Tales from Topographic Oceans. Yes remained primarily a prog rock group until changing their sound again with 1982’s commercially successful 90125, but their mark on the genre would remain with this album. Close to the Edge would go on to be one of the most consequential albums in prog rock and mentioned in the same breath as albums like Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, Rush’s 2112, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. Each of those albums were significant to defining what it meant to be “Prog.” For example, Thick as a Brick solidified the significance of long-form songs, and 2112 introduced the idea of science fiction and fantasy in rock. What Yes did with this album was find a way to combine elements of classical and religious music with classic literature and rock music, some of which would pop up in other prog rock albums throughout the 1970s.

Close to the Edge is one of my favorite albums. I love the fact that the lyrics and message of the title song were based on Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha.” I love how the band didn’t tie themselves to traditional musical structures, instead composing the album more as a single musical movement than as separate songs. I the displays of musicianship, beautiful vocal harmonies, and odd choices for instrumentation. How many times have you heard a church organ solo on a rock album? If you answered ‘Never,’ the this is your chance! Finally, I love the fact that Yes let their music and their art speak for itself and tell its own story. Oftentimes, the lyrics are difficult to discern, either due to the fact that they’re sung in a high voice or layered on top of each other in post-production to make them sound spacey, but you don’t need to know what’s being said all the time. The music tells as much of the story as the lyrics do. You’ll find something different to enjoy about this album each time you listen to it, and I hope you enjoy one of my favorite albums, Close to the Edge.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Close to the Edge (I. The Solid Time of Change, II. Total Mass Retain, III. I Get Up, I Get Down, IV. Seasons of Man): The title track for the album is as epic as a song can possibly be. I’d like to break this song down by section to make it more manageable. The song starts with an extended jam session and the most frenetic, energetic guitar performances I’ve ever heard, both the lead and the backing acoustic guitar. The song lulls you with a calm section before launching into the main theme of the song. The vocals are so ethereal that they’re used more as another instrument than a method to deliver lyrics. That’s not the first time you’ll hear Yes do that on this album either.

The song changes to the second mood at around the seven-minute mark. The main ‘Close to the Edge’ theme continues through the song to help tie the track together, much like an orchestral piece. “Total Mass Retain” is the shortest section, acting as an interlude for “I Get Up, I Get Down” and primarily features a short bass and keyboard solo.

Once you get to “I Get Up, I Get Down,” you feel like you’ve instantly been transported somewhere between a cave and space. The music makes you feel as though you’re in an unidentifiable natural setting. Lyrically, it continues to draw inspiration from “Siddhartha” through the whole section, making references to characters and scenes from the book and slowly building into two peace-breaking, iconic church organ solos; the first thing I think about when I think about this song.

We close the song out with a much faster paced section, “Seasons of Man” that closes out the song both lyrically and thematically, continuing to draw from “Siddhartha” with the often-repeated phrase, ‘Close to the edge, down by the river…now that it’s done, go to the sea,” serving to show that life goes on from one body of water to another body, and emphasizing one of the major tenets of Siddhartha, reincarnation. Musically and lyrically, you’ll hear something different each time you listen to this song, and it’s one of my favorites for its depth, metaphor, and grandiosity. Dad’s Rating 10/10

And You and I (I. Cord of Life, II. Eclipse, III. The Preacher, the Teacher, IV. The Apocalypse): Again, because this is a multi-part song, I’m going to break this one down section by section. “And You and I” is less esoteric than “Close to the Edge” and is overall a softer piece of music than the relative chaos of the former. Section I, “Chord of Life” has a strong classical European influence, and it reminds me of backing music that I might put in a movie set in Ireland or Scotland. Musically, it’s not particularly interesting but it does set the scene for “Eclipse.”

The second section continues the main “And You and I” theme that you’re introduced to right off the bat, but gets really abstract, really fast. If “Close to the Edge” was written to put you in a natural setting, “Eclipse” takes that makes you feel like you’re travelling through space; it’s ethereal and artistic, keeping up the idea that you don’t need lyrics to understand the point of the song.

“The Preacher, the Teacher” begins to pick the pace of the song up as we approach the end of the song, and I’d like to highlight the bass work and guitar work in particular. The bass line is really complex, but gets hidden behind the lead guitar and synthesizer. Take a minute to appreciate the supporting section during this section. They could have easily gone with a simpler bass line and the song would have worked perfectly, but the complex structure contrasts nicely with the simple, but well-played guitar line.

Finally, even though the song picks up tempo through “The Preacher, the Teacher,” Yes slow it back down for the last section with a beautiful vocal harmony that puts you right back in that space mindset and a brief acoustic section to tie it all together. The simple, folk style suits this song well as it contrasts with the harder styles of “Close to the Edge” and “Siberian Khatru.” Overall, I rate this lower than “Close to the Edge” because, while it’s still a great prog rock piece, it shows less musical diversity than the former. Everything was played perfectly and well-thought-out in terms of song construction, and the album did need a slower piece, but after listening to the other two songs, I know that there was a way to eek more musical diversity out of the band on this trac. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Siberian Khatru: “Siberian Khatru” is another fantastic example of what Yes was able to do with rock. Half the time you can’t understand what Jon Anderson is saying, and when you can understand what he’s saying, none of the words seem to fit together. Like the rest of the album though, the lyrics don’t matter in relation to the song, they only matter in relation to how they sound with respect to the rest of the instruments. That feeling is the most important thing; to me I feel like I’m flying underwater every time I listen to this song; the airiness of the music just puts me in that headspace.  Instrumentally, this is a superb song. Steve Howe’s solo at around the mid-mark and at the end of the song are some of my favorite moments in recorded music. The keyboard and bass-work during that end solo are also amazing. The way that Yes closes out “Siberian Khatru” is the benchmark by which I judge the endings of all albums. It crescendos into this huge sound with vocal harmonies before fading out, fittingly, without much being said. Dad’s Rating 10/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Starcastle- Starcastle (1976): 27 April 2020

Starcastle – Starcastle (1976)

Welcome back to YDCS! We’re really diving into the depths of classic prog rock this week with the self-titled studio debut from a band called Starcastle. Starcastle was a prog rock group that formed part of the American prog movement, along with acts the likes of Kansas and Frank Zappa. Starcastle is a pure prog album that features a much lighter sound than other acts of the time. While bands like Rush and Jethro Tull were trending towards a heavy rock-influenced sound, Starcastle opted for an airy, ethereal debut album. The album is a very pleasant mix of guitar, synthesizer, and breathy harmonies. Most of it is instrumental to boot, making you feel like you’re travelling through the stars. The album is a delight to listen to and one that you’ll need multiple listens to catch everything happening in each song.

I really love Starcastle. They’re such a weird group to have come out of the prog rock movement and they never really gained a lot of attention. They opened for some of the big acts in prog like Jethro Tull, Rush, and Yes to name a few but never really garnered their own fanbase. I feel like I owe it to groups like this to care about them. Starcastle is a delightful prog album. Sure, it sounds a lot like a Yes album, but would you complain about having another Yes album to listen to? I wouldn’t! I like finding music that’s really good but bubbled just under the surface and Starcastle is one of those albums that had it gotten more press, we would be mentioning Starcastle right next to Jethro Tull and Yes. I hope you enjoy this lesser-known album from the history books of progressive rock!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Lady of the Lake: “Lady of the Lake” is a bold opening track. Not many bands can pull off a 10-minute long epic to start their DEBUT album, but I will say two things about it. First, I’ll give credit to Starcastle for knowing immediately what kind of band they wanted to be. It’s immediately apparent that they’re a prog group from the lengthy opening track, unconventional song structure, and heavy use of synthesizer to create a gleaming sound. Second, they nailed this song. “Lady of the Lake” tells a great story and the musicianship is captivating. This track makes you feel like you’re soaring through space looking for an intergalactic ‘Lady of the Lake,’ all capped off with tight vocal harmony (I’ll mention that a lot on this album, the band was known for it). “Lady of the Lake” shows that Starcastle had a lot to offer and they could play with the best of the big prog acts of the mid-1970s. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Elliptical Seasons: “Elliptical Seasons” is one of the first songs where you can really hear the close comparison between Starcastle and Yes. Compare this song to any off of Tales From Topographic Oceans or Close to the Edge and it feels right at home on either album. One of the highlights for “Elliptical Seasons” though that makes it stand out from the rest of the pack is the slight funk influence. There’s an audible jazz bass that makes an appearance towards the end of the song that adds a cool twist and is something fun to wait for. Otherwise, this is a pretty standard prog song. Good effort! Dad’s Rating 6/10

Forces: I liked “Forces” quite a bit. Tuning up the bass on this track made it feel like an early Rush song with more keyboard. It’s still distinctly a different band, but the comparison can be drawn. There are lots of little additions that make this a cool song, from interspersed claps to vocal harmonies that sound like they came out of a “Katamari Damacy” video game. “Forces” has a solid rocking moment in the middle solo, and it’s one of two real rock out moments on the whole album. This is an interesting track with enough to be found throughout that you’ll want to listen to it more than once. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Stargate: This second shortest song on the album is sandwiched between two of substantially longer length, and it doesn’t help it stand out. While “Stargate” hits the theme of ‘flying through space’ well with the twinkling synth, there’s not much to it and it feels like fluff. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Sunfield: While the whole album is a hidden gem, “Sunfield” is the first of two songs that are highlights from the B-side, the second being the following song, “To The Fire Wind.” It’s just as much of an epic adventure as “Lady of the Lake” while barely missing that bar. This track is the most reminiscent of any track off of a Yes album. The vocal harmonies are the highlights of these two tracks, and the song structure is, like most prog, more closely resembles that of a story than an actual song. If you like high vocals and a really cool guitar segment that’s more digestible than most prog, this is a good one for you. Dad’s Rating 8/10

To The Fire Wind: “To The Fire Wind” is one of the more rocking tracks on the album. It’s another great example of the band’s exceptionally tight vocal harmonies but also gives their lead guitarist a little room to breathe in the opening and closing riffs before their synth player opens up the throttle with a blistering solo at the midway point. The vocal harmony is really the highlight for this track though, and it’s cool to hear so much emphasis being put on a part that doesn’t get as much attention. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Nova: We’re finishing Starcastle with a big explosion, a “Nova” if you will! One of the best things about progressive rock is that it’s not afraid to experiment with something different, and on “Nova” we get a big drum solo to open this closing track before launching into an instrumental synth solo. It’s not a spectacular song since it doesn’t really have time to get going (it’s also the shortest song on the album), but it is, perhaps, the most fitting they could have chosen to close a sparkling, prog story. Dad’s Rating 5/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.