Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Anderson/Stolt Explore The Spirit of Inventioning

Album Review for Invention of Knowledge

I. Background

Jon Anderson, co-founder and lead singer of Yes, has been one of the most important and longest enduring practitioners of what he calls Yes Music, i.e., classic symphonic progressive rock. Roine Stolt, of Kaipa, The Flower Kings, & Transatlantic, has been one of the most important and longest enduring practitioners of classic symphonic progressive rock in its Third Wave, working obviously within the tradition started by Jon Anderson. Anderson and Stolt met on a cruise when Transatlantic backed Anderson in a performance of 70's-era Yes songs; the head of Inside Out Music (one of the most important and longest enduring record labels specializing in progressive rock) suggested they collaborate on new material, and so they did. Anderson had already written some songs with friends via the Internet, and he continued this form of collaboration with Stolt, sending files back and forth also via the Internet.

II. Theme

The album title, Invention of Knowledge, provides both a clue and an obstacle to understanding the music therein presented. Assuming even a modicum of experience with progressive rock, one might forgiveably suppose this to be a concept album about the invention of knowledge. One might expect a sort of historically-minded, narrative approach to the subject of 'knowledge.' However, the album is not so much about but rather for the "inventioning of knowledge."

Inventioning/Inventioning the spirit of inventioning/Call free the system calling/Now is the time to chase it/This life will still be singing/Calling there calling there calling there

Being this and reading this inventioning/Always to begin the better day/To remember who we are/To summon up the right/To realize this song

Any long-form progressive music from Jon Anderson will rightly be compared to the best of his work with Yes, and thematically Invention of Knowledge recalls the four-musical-movements-across-four-LP-sides milestone, Tales from Topographic Oceans. Like Topographic Oceans, this album is unrelentingly spiritual and positive. It looks forward to a better world and better self that can be through "the perfect mystery of how we invent our knowledge and love of life, and how we are connected to all that is." Commonly, people describe Anderson's lyrics as "mystical," or "New Age-y," when of course what they mean is "nonsensical." And his lyrics here are all three of these things in service of the album's purpose as energy and vehicle rather than as history or science.

South say dancing love may jump and get it/North see crystal shores then see it/Healing stars will set them covered/All in the trance of the Tremalon days

East and west are set to covering life/Southern dreams will dance forever/Healing stars will set them covered/All in the trance of the Tremalon days

III. Sound

While Invention of Knowledge thematically follows Tales from Topographic Oceans, sonically it most resembles the floweriest offerings of The Flower Kings or the modern Yes Music achievement of Keys to Ascension. The music is highly structured yet warm and spiritual; the guitar leads are piercing and angular yet melodic; the production is lush yet focused; and the arrangements are expansive while never meandering. The album is far from experimental. Rather, in mining the richest veins of sources such as Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Flower Power, & The Banks of Eden, Stolt has taken an established musical tradition and pushed it towards its own perfection.

Throughout, Anderson's melodies and chanting are at the fore. Stolt's ensemble provide plenty of delightful surprises, such as the harpsichord at the beginning of "Everybody Heals" and the slightly-dissonant breakdown near its end. Nevertheless, this is an impressive who's who of Prog luminaries: they just are amazing musicians, and so they perform impressive music without needing to impress anyone with their performance. In this sense, Invention of Knowledge is more orchestral and symphonic than many progressive rock projects that claim those descriptions, because everything is focused on the presentation of the music rather than on the deification of any particular musician involved.

IV. Impression

Invention of Knowledge has been nominated for Album of the Year in Prog Magazine's annual awards. The nomination is far from patronizing. Anderson/Stolt (and company) have produced an exceptional piece of music, even by their own celebrated standards. Without disparaging the hallowed legacy of the band Yes, fans should feel free to consider this album the equal--not only the progeny but the equal--of the best of Yes in the early 70's.

And this very achievement will likely prove the greatest obstacle to this album's acceptance. Even by Prog standards, this is a piece of music that demands to be encountered as a whole--several melodies, lyrics, and instrumental flourishes may stand out, but no one moment offers itself as the encapsulation of the whole, as the 'hook' to draw a listener in. Jon Anderson and Roine Stolt have constructed an experience as much as they have an album, right down to the incredible artwork and packaging that rival the best of Roger Dean's work. Even the most casual of progressive rock fans will find something to love, but the work as a whole challenges the listener to embrace love. Thus, thematically as well as musically, Anderson/Stolt meet the very best of expectations for the sum of their parts.

Get closer now to hear/Every word every song every lesson/For the love that you give that you send/That you see for forever/Know that your love is true/It is the answer to the promise/That delivered you...

1. Invention of Knowledge (23:00)
     I. Invention
     II. We Are Truth
     III. Knowledge
2. Knowing (17:54)
     I. Knowing
     II. Chase and Harmony
3. Everybody Heals (13:20)
     I. Everybody Heals
     II. Better By Far
     III. Golden Light
4. Know... (11:10)

Invention of Knowledge may be purchased in the US in 2LP+CD format (or just a CD) from Inside Out Music 

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