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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Residents

Ghost of Hope

Review by Gary Hill

The Residents' brand of sound is clearly not progressive rock in the traditional sense of the kind of music prog bands were doing in the 1970s. However, the experimental nature of the music is definitely prog. There are ties to the Rock In Opposition movement, too. This new album is a concept album about famous train crashes in history. Each song is about a specific real life crash. One wouldn't expect an album with such a depressing theme to be this compelling. When you add in the unique oddity that is the Residents, it's amazing how infectious this album is. However you slice it, if you like The Residents, I'm sure you love this album. If you've never actually heard them, I recommend this album greatly for an introduction. It's an exceptional disc. It might actually make my "best of 2017" list. It really is that good.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2017  Volume 3 at
Track by Track Review
Horrors of the Night

The sounds of the nature of the night begin this. A train can be heard chugging into a station. Music begins to emerge ever so gradually among the sounds of the train. As we hear a train really moving forward at a good clip, the music has dropped away. It returns after a bit. Then vocals join, and new proggy music emerges as the backdrop for the voices. The music works through a number of shifts and changes. It drops way down to mellow, haunting music for a spoken account of the train crash. There is a return to the song proper at the end.

The Crash at Crush
Folk music, classical and prog come crashing together as this cut begins. The piece has some really trippy stuff built into it. There are definitely things here that feel like soundtrack music. This cut is diverse and dynamic. It's also unsettling. As odd as it is, it's compelling and stunning, too. There are some jazz-like elements here, too. The actual sounds of the crash come late in the piece, after the four and a half minute mark. Some folky, carnival like music rises up after the carnage. The "Ghost of Hope" section here is very demonic.
Death Harvest

Electronics that feel more like traditional prog atmospherics starts this. The sounds of children playing and a train can both be heard amidst that backdrop. The music seems to turn a bit dark as the train is picking up speed and volume in the mix. The vocals come in restrained and symphonic music elements come upward, gradually taking control. The train is heard again a bit further down the road. Then the song powers out into some hard edged rocking stuff. This is very much in line with the old Rock In Opposition movement. It's crunchy and crazed. It's also quite cool. There is a drop back to the song proper to end.

Shroud of Flames
Folk music and prog merge here in an intriguing combination. This like a folk prog version of RIO. Then, it gets some power with both some jazz and techno elements emerging. This is a dynamic cut. It's another unsettling one. There is a screaming that emerges and shows up frequently here. I'm not sure if it's actually a voice or an instrument, though. The contrast between mellower and more powered up is stark here. There is a section later that's almost unaccompanied vocals. Some spoken vocals are heard without accompaniment at the end of that section.
The Great Circus Train Wreck of 1918

Ambient sounds open this. As it works forward you can hear the sounds of a circus, along with what sounds like a haunting train whistle. It gets very ominous before a crescendo hits. Then the cut is reborn with some tuned percussion and folk music. The vocals enter, a mostly spoken account of the train crash. This is an odd ride. It's one of the most free-form pieces here. In a lot of ways, it's the most purely folk oriented song. No one would call this "folk music," though.

Train vs Elephant
The sounds of nature begin this. The music that comes in has a weird uneasy texture to it. The cut gets an infusion of hard rocking elements as it works its way forward. There are some hints of modern King Crimson in this. It drops back to just the sounds of the world, particularly the titular elephant. It rises up to some of the most dramatic and purely prog stuff of the whole disc. It's bombastic and powerful.
Killed at a Crossing
This is a powerful piece of music. It starts gradually with a really mellow, slow moving movement. After the sounds of the train are heard some more rocking elements rise up from there. As the cut works past the three minute mark, it turns mellower. It drops back even further for a section that features a female voice. To me, it almost seems like it could represent the "ghost" of the album title. There is some ominous, freaky, sound that rises up from there. We a spoken voice talking over the top about one of the victims. Then some proggy rocking music rises upward. It works back to the song proper for the next vocals. It drops way down for spoken stuff from there. Train sounds emerge after that.
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