Canadian For 'Yes!': FM's prog clearance masterpiece

Posted by Mark Beaver, August 5, 2008 12:00am | Post a Comment
In a recent edition of the L.A. Weekly’s Ask a Mexican column, someone asked why it was that so many young Mexican kids seemed gaga for Morrissey. The columnist thought the better question was why so few children of the imperialists (white kids) weren’t as equally gaga about some of the excellent music made by Latino musicians. Granted, as I hear my neighbor drive up blasting his stereo beyond what could possibly be comfortable for him inside the nuclear heart of that volume, I have to admit that much of what he plays for the neighbors sounds pretty good. Not necessarily something I would run out and buy, but I was far from hating it.

What’s that got to do with Canada? Good question, but in some ways, it's obvious. Canada is the Mexico of the Great White North, dont’cha know? It has only been the fact of a more-or-less common language that has allowed the very few Canuck rockers to break USA radio charts that have so far. Neil Young, Bare Naked Ladies, Bryan Adams, Alanis Morissette, Steppenwolf, Rush, Leonard Cohen; there aren’t many that spring to mind and most of them are not in my personal collection, but they built careers with American money without being American or British. Good job, guys!

So, trawling thru the Red Sea of Clearance, I happened upon an album cover that has haunted me since my childhood. The vacant stare of the half-man/half-mannequin surrounded by the glowing hoop and splash of light has taunted me from Clearance bins for as long as I can remember being conscious of music. “Now’s the time,” I declared and grabbed it.

FM's Black Noise was in Clearance due to some condition issues, but it was there and cheap, so I took it. FM formed in Toronto in 1976, and Black Noise is their first album, from 1977. I hear a lot of Fragile-era Yes in their sound, some Jean-Luc Ponty, a splash here and there of Jan Hammer and a lot of the prog that defined the reigning Canadian supergroup of the day, Rush.  Perhaps it was the curse of the also-rans, the stigma attached to coming later than first with any particular sound that kept FM from being heard, or maybe we had already filled our Canadian quota for 1977. I certainly don’t mean to give the impression that FM were copy-cats, by any means. There’s enough Buggles in their sound to tilt them towards what was becoming known as New Wave and a bit away from the pack of dyed-in-the-wool proggers. Their drive is provided by fuzzed guitar, virtuoso drums and the central wail of Nash the Slash’s electric violin.

Nash the Slash, you ask? Yea, remember him? The guy who played completely incognito, like the Invisible Man, his whole face wrapped in bandages beneath the Ray-Bans? Yep. FM gave Nash the Slash to the world. He became nearly-famous, a darling of college radio, touring and playing with Gary Numan from his days with the Tubeway Army through his Living Ornaments tour. That subject is a column unto itself, but, I digress…back to FM. Want to hear some prog/pop/New Wave you haven’t heard yet? Snap up Black Noise next time you see the man/nequin staring up at you from the bins. I’m certain it will be cheap.

Also, here’s some Nash the Slash albums you might also dig. Nash embraced New Wave and the sounds that were soon to be called Industrial. His humor is darker on his own, getting downright threatening at times.

    Children of the Night

And You Thought You Were Normal (1982)

Relevant Tags

Rush (12), Jan Hammer (1), Industrial (27), Jean-luc Ponty (1), Toronto (4), Gary Numan (15), Nash The Slash (1), Canada (15), Buggles (2), Prog-rock (1)