Maximalism vs Minimalism

Debates have swirled around the task of tracing the prog rock lineage into the 1980s, with ragtag assortments of New Wave performers commonly thrown into the commotion. But honestly, there’s a definitive line between music that’s eclectic, lavish and complex in the maximalistic (i.e. progressive, or ‘arty’) manner, vs music that’s skeletal, abrasive and atonal in a minimalistic (i.e. alternative, or ‘art damaged’) way.

Maverick innovators like The Stranglers, Magazine, Random Hold, Gloria Mundi, Ultravox, Japan, The Tubeway Army and XTC have all been praised by discerning aficionados as ‘prog punk’ (or ‘progressive new wave’) because they brushed aside the minimalistic traits that were so de rigueur within post-punk confines, in favor of the maximalistic values more broadly revered across the preceding symphonic progressive and arty glam rock legions.

Elsewhere, bands like Joy Division, the Fall, Gang of Four, and various other North England purveyors of dissonant, low budget minimalism may have indeed made music that was difficult to listen to, hence an ‘alternative’ to the mainstream (in attitude, if nothing more.) But it didn’t make them ‘progressive’ in the musical sense, because they didn’t ‘progress’ within and build upon the inherently musical virtues of melody, harmony, rhythm and sonority. What they did instead was the exact opposite: transgressing said virtues unilaterally in their own cryptic thirst for some post-apocalyptic brand of noise – a punishing cul-de-sac, maybe, but by God ‘not’ the new tradition.

(I would have titled this post ‘Progressive vs Alternative’, if not for the word ‘alternative’ having become a most putrid pejorative.)


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