Posts Tagged ‘Prog’

Cruel Nature Records – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Aiden Baker’s releases have become a regular feature here at Aural Aggravation. His prodigious output, not only as a solo artist, but through innumerable collaborations, often released through Gizeh Records, have given us no shortage of material to contemplate and ruminate over. It’s often hard to keep up with his output,

Stimmt was first released digitally back in 2015 on Broken Spine Productions, and has been was remixed and remastered for its first physical format outing via Cruel Nature in a limited edition of 60 cassettes (as well as digitally again).

Baker is to guitar what John Cage and Reinhold Friedl were / are to piano, with the ‘prepared’ guitar being a prominent feature of his musical arsenal, along with an array of other ‘alternative’ methods of playing, across a genre span that incorporates elements of rock, electronic, classical, and jazz, within his broadly ambient / experimental works

Stimmt sits at the more overtly ‘rock’ end of Baker’s stylistic spectrum, launching with the heavy riffology of ‘Dance of the Entartet’ that’s got a prog vibe but comes on with a heavily repetitious throb that owes more to Swans than Pink Floyd or Yes. The percussion crashes away hard but it’s almost buried in the overloading guitar assault that’s cranked up to the max and is straining to feed back constantly throughout, before it wanders off into ‘Atemlos’, where it’s the strolling bass that dominates as the guitars retreat to the background and sampled dialogue echoes through the slightly jazz-flavoured ripples. It’s here that things begin to feel less linear, more meandering, and the chiming post-rock sections feel less like an integral part of a journey and more like detours – pleasant, appropriate detours, but detours nevertheless – and it culminates in a climactic violin-soaked crescendo.

Veering between hazy shoegazey ambience that borders on abstraction, and mellifluous post-rock drifts, Stimmt is varied, and, oftentimes, rich in atmosphere. ‘Mir’ is very much a soporific slow-turner that casts a nod to Slowdive, but with everything slowed and sedated, wafting to an inconclusive finish.

The lumbering ‘Staerken’ stands out as another heavy-duty riffcentric behemoth: it’s low, it’s heavy, and finds Baker exploring the range of distortion effects on his pedal board, stepping from doom sludge to bolstering shred and back, and there’s a deep, crunchy bass that grinds away hard, boring at the bowels and hangs, resonating at the end.

After the full-on overloading ballast of ‘Quer’ that really does go all out on the abrasion, with squalling guitar paired with a nagging bass loop that’s reminiscent of The God Machine (the track as a while, calls to mind ‘Ego’ from their debut Songs From the Second Story), closer ‘Resolut’ is eight minutes of semi-ambient prog.

It’s a lot to digest, and it’s certainly not an easy pigeonhole, but it’s an intriguing album that stands out as being quite different both musically, and in the context of Baker’s output. Unusual but good, and offering much to explore.

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5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Inspired by a passage in the novel White Teeth by Zadie Smith, NYC’s Charlie Nieland describes the lead single, ‘Land of Accidents’ from his new album as ‘a dark anthem to not-belonging’. Divisions certainly presents an eclectic mix that doesn’t really belong anywhere, and perhaps encapsulates that sentiment of unbelonging most perfectly within its very fabric. Traversing between a host of styles spanning post-rock, neo-prog, folk, indie, and further afield, if any one genre has an overarching influence, it’s 70s prog.

A stuttering, jittering rapidfire drum machine snare jolts like an electric current through the easy strumming clean guitar that leads the instrumentation on ‘Always on Fire’, the first song on the album. He’s gone all out for the grand curtain opener with this expansive, emotive, cinematic effort that lures the listener into a spiralling, psychedelic experience, and it’s effective – there’s a lot going on and a lot to explore. The same is true of the album as a whole, as it reveals more with every track.

A swell of sweeping strings add layers to the rolling drums and mid-pace melancholy of ‘The Falling Man,’ which contrasts with the uptempo punk-tinged indie drive of ‘I Refuse’ which comes on a like a blend of The Wedding Present, The Fall, and Mission of Burmah.

Aforementioned single cut ‘Land of Accidents’ packs it all in, and has the twists and turns and explosive dynamics of Oceansize at their best and builds into a muscular wall of sound, with dense waves of guitar dominating. ‘Tightrope’ is pure REM, only it’s probably a better take on REM than many of the band’s own later years work, and spins into a soaring shoegaze climax that is nothing short of absolute gold. It’s one of those songs you could easily play on repeat for hours – but then that would be to underexpose the broody magnificence of ‘Skin’ which immediately follows. ‘Some Things You Keep to Yourself’ has hints of Mansun but also later Depeche Mode about it with its dark brooding and also its soulful feel, not least of all the backing vocals. Things continue to get darker and starker on the synth-led closer ‘Pawns’ that goes all weirdy as it stretches and twists out of shape.

Neiland sustains the interest and the variety throughout, and there’s no let-up in quality either: there’s not a throwaway or duff song on Divisions, and with thirteen tracks, that’s no small achievement. That Divisions is almost impossible to pigeonhole is no issue: after all there are only two kinds of music – good and bad. And this is most definitely good.

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Charlie Nieland - Divisions (LP cover)

26th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

LA instrumentalists Teethers, centred around drummer and composer Andrew Lessman, brings together an unusual fusion for their debut release. With contributions straddling jazz, avant garde, and indie pop, for Teethers, Lessman has brought together an eclectic lineup, consisting of Graham Chapman on bass, guitarist Alexander Noise, Joe Sanata Maria and Ted Faforo on saxophones and Stefan Kac on tuba. The results are, as you might expect, unusual.

There’s a smooth, jazzy, swingy pop vibe that permeates the EP#s three tracks, and as ‘Goose Chasing’ indicates, they can locks down a tidy groove and create music you can bop to, nod along to, even dance to… and then they’re more than capable of – and willing to – drive that train straight off a cliff into a wild frenzy of horn-driven discord and madness. This is bit a brief introduction that sets the scene for what Teethers are really all about: the twelve-minute ‘Monopoly on Violence / Mushroom dance’ is a multi-faceted, shifting exploration of rippling shades and expansive soundscapes.

It’s rambling, at times immensely proggy in a vintage sense, and at times it just can’t seem to make up its mind as it ambles and weaves hither and thither, a mellow jazz meandering that hits some frenzies peaks and altogether more sedate intersections. It’s one of those pieces that transitions enticing and irritating in a mere blink – and that’s not even a criticism. Condensing so many elements into its space, it’s difficult to keep up.

The third track, ‘Love Poem’ is seven-and-a-half minutes of dappled sunlight painted in music, with a clean, picked guitar chiming in a simple, hypnotic sequence that’s a post-rock / contemporary prog crossover laced with soft, delicate strings. It’s perhaps the most focused and conventionally coherent of the three compositions, on what is a fairly wide-ranging set – so wide-ranging that it’s not easy to immediately assimilate, and even more difficult to pin down – not just stylistically, but in the most basic terms of formulating an opinion. Is it any good? Do I like it? Does it matter? There’s certainly no doubting the technical proficiency on display here, and having the confidence and audacity to make music that straddles so many boundaries and genuinely challenges the listener is an achievement worthy of recognition.

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Inside Out Music – 28th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Almost 30 years into their career, Sweden’s Pain of Salvation, led by multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gildenlöw land a new album with the ambition of demonstrating that ‘Ultimately, progress will not be stopped’. They go on to unravel the details that ‘Pain of Salvation have been firmly at the forefront of the progressive rock and metal scenes for nearly three decades now’, and that ‘the Swedish band have consistently demonstrated a sincere passion for moving their own extraordinary music forward, while always remaining lyrically enlightened and ferociously intelligent. As a result, the band’s return in 2020 could hardly be better timed’.

The press release makes a gargantuan leap from the band’s formation and crash-lands us with a ‘Fast forward to 2020 [when] the world is in a state of disarray’. It makes sense in a way: we’ve all landed where with absolutely no fucking clue how 2020 actually relates to or connects with anything: the past has dissolved in a haze of time eroded to desert and a future that seems impossible. Chronology is utterly screwed. I can barely remember last week, or even what I had for dinner last night.

This is one of those multi-layered, multi-textured, multi-genred and highly detailed albums that is simply impossible to digest on the first few cycles. I sat, a shade bewildered, a tad giddy, and not just on account of a couple of strong, hoppy American IPAs down on an evening after three hours sleep the night before. The album’s first track, ‘Accelerator’ collides myriad elements, twisting together contemporary prog with an electronic twist, some dancy synths and some chugging industrial guitar riffage that slams in and it all coalesces to a bewildering sonic whiplash that works well and hits hard.

Next up, ‘Unfuture’ steps up the weight, slugging hard some industrial country with menace that’s a melange of Alice in Chains and Nine Inch Nails and it’s both brooding and heavy. And it’s clear that on Panther, PoS have hit their stride with optimum, riffage and a weight that achieves critical mass when it matters.

It’s not all good: the title track is a cringeworthy and incredibly dated-sounding stab at a hip-hop nu-metal crossover that doesn’t sit comfortably anywhere in 2020, let alone with the rest of the album, and when placed alongside contemporary grunge-tinged prog efforts like ‘Species’ – which comes on like Pearl Jam crossed with Amplifier – it just sounds odd.

Then again, songs like ‘Species’ bring full-blooded riffs and some solid overdrive, and the thirteen-minute finale, ‘Icon’, is the album’s ultimate pinnacle, as a snaking, picked lead guitar line rattles against its cage to twist around a gritty, thick-chorded riff. It yields to moments of folksy levity, but they’re gloriously crushed by the weight of big, grinding chuggery, not to mention a pyrotechnical guitar solo around the eight-minute mark. Miraculously, it actually works without sounding like indulgent wank, and that’s no small feat.

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InsideOut Music – 24th July 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s almost as if they planned it, or saw it coming (although not sufficiently to prevent the release date being put back three times). And you could almost believe it, too: there’s a potently portentous aspect to Haken’s brand of progressive rock, and Virus is very much timely as much for its ruminations on the psychology of contemporary culture, as the press release explains:

‘If ‘Vector’ was an origin story, ‘Virus’ portrays an ascent to power, tyranny and subsequent endgame. The opening track, ‘Prosthetic’, bridges the two albums where scars of institutional abuse are brought into focus. This 6-minute onslaught of brutal riffing starts the spread of a virus that affects all aspects of our lives, be they biological, psychological, technological, environmental or political.’

They’ve been working on the album since the release of Vector in October 2018, and it shows: the level of detail in the interweaving guitars and the spacious melodies are remarkable, but then, so are the thunderous riffs.

The ten-and-a-half-minute ‘Carousel’ is a clear standout, and packs the experience of an entire album into a single song. The rest of the songs are much more concise, at least if you take the five-part ‘Messiah Complex’ suite as separate chapters. As you’d perhaps expect, this is a grand and grandiose sequence, with everything elevated and amplified, and with the addition of some bombastic orchestral strikes, while the final part, subtitled ‘Ectobius Rex’ goes full-on industrial metal riffage.

Elsewhere. ‘Canary Yellow’ is a condensed epic, soaring shoegaze anthem, while the final song, ‘Only Stars’ is a magnificently sparse affair which finds Ross Jennings emoting an almost choral elegy. It feels like a moment of calm reflection in the wake of a wave of devastation.

For all of the heavy power chords that crash like slabs of granite in a most contemporary metal way, I’m in some way reminded of Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds and Mansun’s Six, although Jennings’ vocals often carry that rich but troubled soulfulness of Dave Gahan. If this all sounds like an unlikely and improbable cocktail, it’s testament to Haken’s abilities that they make it all work not only cohesively, but deliver some great songs along the way.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Six whole years in the making In Her Eyes Lies the Golden Dawn is the third release from Austin TX’s Black Earth. Before we get to the album, take a moment to reflect on that. Six years. Can you even remember how the world was six years ago? It as another world. We were all different people. I’m going to assume the members of Black Earth have been busy wit life. Life has a habit of devouring time. Yu get sidetracked by dayjob and family, and suddenly, six years have passed. No sarcasm: this is how it happens. I expect some people will have been on tenterhooks for this.

‘She is the Void’ brings an ‘Unplugged in New York’ kind of vibe by ay of an opener, only without vocals, it’s lot less angsty, and it practically bleeds into the title track, which starts out Mark Lanegan before bursting into a chorus that’s more a grunged-up Zeppelin and wraps with a big rock climax around the mid-point. Being over eight-and-a-half minutes, it’s a bit of a beast. I may not be entirely sold on the ‘eyes / thighs’ rhyme but hey, when it comes to good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, there’s currency still to be found in booze and birds type relationship stuff.

‘I never meant to hurt you / but you gave me no choice’ goes the opening of ‘Pushing Back My Hand’, and I find myself wondering just how comfortable I am with it, before I remind myself that it’s a mistake to align artist with art, and there’s nothing here that in any way condones any kind of misogyny. In fact, what we have is a pretty straight-ahead blues-grunge album, and a solid one at that.

They pack the riffs, and that’s a fact. ‘Left Behind’ is particularly ball-busting, coming on with enough weight as to sound like Melvins covering some vintage cock rock. ‘She’s a Do or Die’ brings more dirty heft, the guitars thick and overdriven, and there comes a point where skirting sabbath touchstones becomes impossible, although the swaggering space-rock midsection is more Hawkwind and finds the band going all out on going all out, and it kicks ass. And as for the colossal closer, ‘She is the Universe’… woah. It brings the riffs, the repetition, and locks into a dense psychedelic groove, which breaks around the seven-minute mark to return to Mark Lanegan territory, before piling into a massive guitar finish.

It’s so easy to dismiss blues / rock albums – even those that incorporate grunge and psych – as being a bit standard, and being much of a muchness. But that’s a genre thing: let’s face it, within any genre there will always be tropes that form a level of format. This is where it comes down to quality of material and execution, and on In Her Eyes Lies the Golden Dawn, Black Earth have both.

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Bubblewrap Collective – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s 2019, but Right Hand Left Hand’s third album leaps us back to 2004. But let’s be clear: this is not a criticism. ‘Zone Rouge’ follows on from their self-titled, Welsh Music Prize-nominated second album, and, according to the press release, ‘tells the story of humanity’s contempt for the earth beneath us, the air above us and the people around us.’ The titles of the album’s 11 tracks each refer to ‘a location on Earth where something bad has happened: An act of corruption against the planet, an act of evil against fellow humans and occasionally both.’ Obviously, there’s scope for this to have been an album of infinite duration with a new track added every three seconds for all eternity, but there have to be limits.

Instead, what we have is a concise and urgent post-rock statement on the state of the planet. Being largely instrumental, the sentiment and intention isn’t immediately apparent or openly conveyed without some kind of preface, ‘Zone Rouge’ doesn’t scream ‘environmental crisis reaction!’ or ‘mass killing’ or ‘war’. A lot of this is pretty smooth, expansive, cinematic, with well-placed but ultimately controlled crescendos. The production is sensitive to the mood and the from, but ultimately, it’s clean, dynamic, textured.

There are departures: ‘Prora’ is a kind of choppy, post-punk funk effort with vocals, and it feels rather incongruous in the scheme of the hefty back-and-forth riffery and heavy atmospherics that pervade. ‘Chacabuco’, featuring Taliesyn Kallstrom of Cardiff’s ESTRONS feels particularly anomalous, being some kind of trippy indie / alt metal hybrid. For what it’s worth, it’s a belting tune and single-worthy in its own right, but stands out like a sore thumb in the context of the album.

At times, it feels like the Right Hand Left Hand doesn’t know exactly what the Right Hand Left Hand is doing, but for the most part, Zone Rouge is a solid post-rock album, pushing into an array of stylistic territories with rare aplomb.

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Right Hand Left Hand

AdderStone Records – 4th October 2019

James Wells

Originally released in November 2018, Jo Quail’s Exsolve has been re-released, remastered, as a double vinyl effort on her own, newly-founded, AdderStone Records. It’s been expanded to include a new fourth track, ‘Reya Pavan’.

If a mere eleven months feels like an uncommonly short span of time, consider the fact that the original release wasn’t available on vinyl, and also the year Jo has had. With support slots with Mono and Emma Ruth Rundle, her profile has very much been on the up, and her performances have been consistently spellbinding.

Quail’s appeal was always likely to be subject to slow diffusion. While we’ve become accustomed to post-rock and experimental music, a solo cellist who conjures sound like a full rock band is essentially unique. Moreover, she’s more a purveyor of prog than neoclassical, and this really doesn’t sit readily with contemporary trends, however accommodating and broad-minded and receptive audiences are.

Christopher Nosnibor frothed effusively about the album on this very site a year ago and all of that still stands: this is a stunning album, and the depth and range of the sound is incredible. It has grace, it has power, it has impact, and it has blistering solos that sound like guitars. I’d challenge anyone to sit and listen to this without any forewarning and consider for a second this is the work of one person, or a solo cello album.

The new, additional composition, ‘Reya Pavan’ is the most overtly orchestral track on the album, and it oozes sadness rom the heart, while underpinned by a sonorous rhythmic throb that adds a very different dimension.

It’s not really a re-valuation as such, or a reissue, but a timely reboot, and Jo Quail is a singular and innovative artist who deserves the attention.

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Jo Quail - Exsolve reissue

Southern Lord – 23rd June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Maybe I’m not nearly as musically ware as I thought. Or maybe some bands are simply so way off radar, it takes a poke from a PR to get things moving. And so it is that my introduction to Circle comes after they’ve already got over 30 albums to their credit. Before I even start listening, I find myself thinking ‘shit, I hope it’s not so awesome that I feel compelled to explore their entire back catalogue’. I’m still working on The Melvins after all, and have kinda parted ways with The Fall in recent years, not because I haven’t enjoyed any of their more recent release, but because I simply can’t keep up, and there’s so much music out there. Something’s got to give.

Terminal contains six tracks, all bar one of which extend beyond the five-minute mark, and opening with the thirteen-minute ‘Rakkautta Al Dente’. It’s got the lot woven into its epic, dense fabric, building on a mystical desert rock vibe that spins out for mile after mile, before a ravaged vocal, by turns demonic and magickal, leads through a preposterously theatrical rock opera of sorts, riding through a succession of crescendos and surges, with changes of style galore, ranging from medieval riffery to cinematic prog. And… well. It’s effectively an entire album in a single song. Over the top? Way over… but if you’re going to go over, there’s no point in just scraping the bar.

The title tracks kicks in with a punchy riff that leans heavily on ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ by The Stooges – or, from another perspective, that classic chord sequence that informs a near infinite number of songs – before flying off into motoric space rock territory. With ‘Saxo’ mining a manic post-punk seam and ‘Kill City’ coming on somewhere between Iron Maiden and GWAR before ‘Sick Child’ plays out with a thumping psychedelic trudge, Terminal is as eclectic as a heavy, guitar-based album is as likely to come.

Small wonder the Finnish act are almost unanimously hailed as the very definition of genre-defying. At its heart, you may say there’s a hard rock / heavy metal album lurking amidst the coalition of disparate elements which form Terminal. This would certainly sit with the narrative of an album released on Southern Lord. But the way in which everything is drawn together – sometimes seamlessly, sometimes audaciously and unexpectedly – means that this framing of the album doesn’t really work. All of this leaves more questions than answers in terms of how to frame, and therefore how to accommodate Terminal. But regardless of how one assimilates, or otherwise fails to assimilate it, Terminal is a wild ride, and while in places perplexing and vastly excessive, it’s never for a moment dull or predictable.

Circle - Terminal