Back in 1998 when we launched Classic Rock magazine, we ran a feature in the very first issue titled: Meet The New Prog. Same As The Old Prog? which posited the idea that prog had moved on apace from its be-caped days of the early 70s and its influence could now be heard in more modern day acts such as Radiohead, Spiritualized and even The Verve. Obviously, such a statement didn’t sit well with everyone, but one only has to look at albums like Kid A and Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space to note that there was a connection of sorts.
Back in the early 90s, before the original wave of indie bands who would affect the decade had been tarnished with the Britpop tag, shoegaze was a genre term coined by the music press for a raft of groups, insinuating that they took themselves too seriously (see a parallel forming here?). However, the bands retorted that they were, in reality, paying attention to the banks of guitar effects pedals at their feet. Either way, shoegaze, or dream pop as it was sometimes called, often had a strong psychedelic influence, and an otherworldliness that hinted at a more progressive influence. The likes of Sigur Rós, Catherine Wheel, Mercury Rev and Swervedriver were all prog-friendly exponents.
As were Levitation, who were formed in 1990 by ex-House Of Love man Terry Bickers. They released their debut album, Need For Not on Rough Trade and toured as support to Cardiacs. But it was the band’s second album, Meanwhile Gardens, that has remained an undisturbed jewel in their skew-whiff crown. Bickers quit before it was released, throwing the band’s plans into chaos. American singer Steve Ludwin briefly replaced him and a version of Meanwhile Gardens was released in Australia only. But until now, its effervescent charms have remained largely ignored.
Soon to be released, having been pieced back together and remastered from original tapes, its 11 songs shine out, giving credence to the press release’s claim that it would have “changed the course of guitar music, had it been released at the time.”
Guitars shimmer and shine over the likes of Gardens Overflowing and the joyous Even When Your Eyes Are Open, and that sense of otherness that pervades I Believe, Burrows and Sacred Lover – echoed too in Bicker’s haunting vocals – all suggest the band enjoyed a much proggier playlist than they’d have dared to admit back in the prog-unfriendly 90s.
The fact that many exponents of the short-lived shoegaze phenomenon have moved into the realm of post-rock in the ensuing years, which of course now also falls under progressive music’s grand umbrella, further hints at the historical and creative connections between the genres. It’s just that back in the 90s, prog was still very much a dirty word. The sumptuous tones of Meanwhile Gardens help prove that to be a folly.