Änglagård - perhaps the top "retro" band.
written by John Hagelbarger
NOTE: I posted a slightly different version of this on the Progressive ears message board, in response to an inquiry about “Neo” and Retro” bands. I thought you might find it amusing.
A friend* and I decided that Änglagård had actually started out in 1971. At that time, they were an extremely promising young act, but hadn't yet played outside Sweden. Had they connected with a wider audience, the major Seventies progressive rock bands might have been known as the Big Six instead of the Big Five. However, to warm up for their first international tour, they took a gig way off in the back-country of Northern Sweden. It turned out to be at a medieval-looking log barn on a remote dirt track, where the electric power came from a coal-fired steam engine turning a generator and the PA was a bulky tube-powered monstrosity like something from an old movie house. The band were rather surprised to find themselves playing for a roomful of little short guys with great big beards and funny pointed hats. But they danced up a storm! They also brewed their own beer, offered some to the band, and it tasted so good that they couldn't drink enough of it. So the six musicians wound up crashing on sofas backstage.
Except when they woke up, their hosts had disappeared, that log building looked like it had been deserted for decades, their van was rusted, covered with moss and wouldn't start, and when they hiked out to the main road and started hitching, all the cars looked weirdly futuristic. Yes. They had, unfortunately, been playing for the Kobolds, and now it was twenty years later.
So they just picked up and kept on going. Their music had become a commercially marginal style in the interim, but they still loved playing it too much to give it up as a bad deal, so they took day jobs or went back to school and stayed together. They recorded Hybris, and soon, had risen to considerable acclaim in the progressive rock world. However, after a triumphant gig in Los Angeles, they took another last one in the States - one that their public never heard about. Playing at a bowling alley (!) in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, near Sleepy Hollow. And all the guys they played for looked a bit similar to the ones at that gig in Sweden. However, they didn't wear the funny hats, and so the band weren't quite as much on their guard as they should have been. And after a tour full of watery American beer, their hosts' home-brewed stuff was just too good to turn down...
But this time, when they woke up, all the men in the band had grown long beards and Anna's hair was starting to go gray. Again, the van was covered with leaves and wouldn't start. When they walked out to the road it was the same thing – weird cars, unfamiliar ads, and the driver who picked them up pulled a little gadget out of his pocket and made a phone call on it. Fortunately only ten years had passed – fortunately, because this time they had aged ten years as they slept instead of time stopping for them (magic doesn't work quite as well over here in the States).
Tord Lindman had had enough, and decided to retire. But the rest of the band still wanted to carry on, so they took a gig at NEARFest, and did so.
NOTE: And here's a later posting, explaining the first one a little.
Änglagård aren't so much retro, as they are a group who sound like an actual, first-rate Seventies band. That was my (somewhat rococo) point. They seem to have the same classical, folk, and Sixties pop influences a band back then would have had, and to view other prog artists in terms of "OK, they set the bar THIS high - now we've got to exceed it." Rather like Yes, Genesis, et al did upon hearing one anothers' new releases. A current "retro" band would try to copy that music, write within that idiom. Änglagård sound like the idiom is still in a process of being defined and expanded, and they're going to do their best to add to the definition. Most artists who take that approach keep adding complexity and dissonance. But Änglagård don't push their music in an avant-garde direction so much as they make symphonic prog that is "more symphonic". It has very little pop songwriting in it, yet remains listenable, cohesive, and not difficult-sounding at all.
*Incidentally, the friend's name is Phil Bastanchury. He had the initial idea for Änglagård really being a Seventies band, but described it as “passing through a time-warp”. I thought that playing for the Kobolds was more appropriate, and wrote this up.