“See light… Soul light…”
I wouldn’t exactly call myself a morning person, but this morning, due to a confluence of abnormal events, I found myself awake at dawn. Sitting on my back porch, watching the sun creep upwards over the houses down the street, I could see the world lightening, feel the air warming, experience the birth of another day, the renewal of life. So I leaned back in my comfy chair and pressed play on Invention Of Knowledge.
And all the world was good.
Anderson / Stolt is the collaboration between longtime Yes vocalist Jon Anderson and Flower Kings mastermind Roine Stolt. The two met on a prog-rock cruise some years back when Stolt and several other musicians backed up Anderson on a set of Yes and solo material. The idea was floated then for the two to partner up on some new music, but for various reasons, it’s taken until now for the fruit of that labor to materialize. Regardless, long in the making or not, Invention Of Knowledge was well worth the wait.
“Know that each moment has greater understanding…”
The stated intention of the Anderson / Stolt pairing was to create long-form compositions in the mold of classic Yes. Thus, in that respect, their progressive rock is decidedly classicist, purposefully regressive. Give that mission statement to lesser giants, and, while some may achieve the superficial hallmarks of Yes-ness – the lengthy structures, the complex arrangements, instrumental proficiency that never falls prey to wankery – it’s likely few could capture the intangible spirituality of Yes. I won’t pretend to understand the full scope of Anderson’s religious ideals, but the whole sums together into a mass of post-hippie happiness. Combine that with his lilting high-register voice and his melodies that seamlessly blend radio-worthy catchiness with higher-brow influences like classical and world musics, and therein lies that certain transcendental beauty that has always characterized Jon Anderson’s musical direction.
Composing the backbones to Anderson’s melodic and lyrical ideas, Stolt has created a musical sound-scape that fits the physical instrumentats perfectly with the metaphysical images and words. All the appropriate prog-rock boxes are checked off, and though Invention certainly invokes plenty of Yes nostalgia, there’s enough Stolt-ness to insure that it’s not a carbon copy of something Anderson has done before.
Provided by Flower Kings bassists Jonas Reingold and Michael Stolt, the bass lines approach Chris Squire’s signature business, but they don’t try to capture the distinctive bite of his Rickenbacker tone. Roine’s guitars avoid the uniquely skittering nature of Steve Howe’s work, which is especially appreciated, since no guitarist should ever try to out-Howe Steve Howe. Tom Brislin’s and Lalle Larson’s keyboards color the whole album in various shades, stepping in and out of the spotlight as needed. Stolt’s compositions provide layers of beauty, and those players perform them perfectly – a wonderful guitar lead here, a beautiful piano interlude there, lush strings surrounding them, a well-placed drum fill to kick the song up to another level…
In true classic prog fashion, Invention is predominantly made up of three multi-part songs. The title track is 23 minutes long, split into three distinct sections, and all together, it’s the album’s strongest epic, rife with major-key splendor and instantly hooky vocal lines. The fourteen-minute “Everybody Heals” features some of Anderson’s most uplifting lyrics, made all the more triumphant through some great piano work from Larson.
“We are truth, made in heaven; we are glorious.”
Progressive rock will always have a special place in my heart, and among those 70s giants who created the style, Yes is likely my all-time favorite. There was no other band truly like them then, and there really isn’t now. Invention Of Knowledge is a decided attempt to recapture the spirit of Topographic Oceans, and it comes as close as it can, and all the best for it. It’s a wonderful feeling, finding a new record that feels like an old friend, and that’s exactly how Invention Of Knowledge hits me. It’s a new twist on the old sound, fresh and yet familiar. It’s hardly left my player in the months since I’ve had it – I pre-ordered the album on the strength of the promo copy provided by the label – and it will absolutely fall into a high spot on my year-end best-of-2016 list, alongside Fates Warning‘s newest to show that progressive rock remains alive and well.
As I listened to Anderson / Stolt at dawn on some July morning, the world was born anew in the fire of the sun, and all the possibilities of life lay there before us all. Do the best you can; never fail to dream. Even the lost and alone can see the Given Light…
Everybody hear it. Everybody see it.
Everybody hear it.