Posts Tagged ‘Progressive’

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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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

Daily, I read about how the current situation is affecting bands, and, indeed, every aspect of the music industry. That said, it’s always the grass roots and lower echelons who are hardest hit, as is the case in any kind of crisis. Major-league artists will always be ok as gong as there are radio stations to play their stuff and produce a steady flow of royalties, and their millions of fans continue to stream their songs endlessly online. Beyoncé, Bono, and Ed Sheeran aren’t going to starve under lockdown.

But bands who rely on gigs in pubs alongside other bands who rely on gigs in pubs to find a fanbase and maybe flog enough merchandise to cover their fuel between said gigs have nothing to fall back on.

Sleep Kicks’ story is by no means unique, but they way they tell it as they present their new single really brings it home:

The whole live music scene shut down less than two weeks after our debut single came out. Instead of doing gigs and rehearsals, we just kept going, working on our own with a handful of songs we had recorded. Mixing, videos, artwork – the lot. We suddenly realised that one of the songs happened to describe this weird situation, and the feeling we somehow knew we would have once this whole thing was over. In short, the soundtrack to coming out of urban lockdown. It turned out an epic ode to the city, and at least it helped ourselves keeping the spirits up during the bleak times!

With ‘Recovery’, the Norwegian quartet paint scenes of an empty world springing back to life, and the difficulties of the prospect of readjustment.

A rolling rhythm and chiming guitar pave the way for a strolling bass motif and they coalesce into a spacious, reflective soundscape that sits between A-Ha, Editors, and mid-80s U2 and Simple Minds. Things kick up a notch and even nod toward anthemic around the mid-point of this six-and-a-half minute epic, before blossoming fully for a mesmerising final minute, where it soars on every level as they cast their eye to a brighter future: not the chalk-drawn rainbow on the pavement featured on the cover art, but a life of fulfilment, a re-emergence from the stasis of the now to actually living, rather than merely existing.

For a ‘little’ band, they have a big, ambitious sound that’s also got big audience potential. Here’s hoping they fulfil it.

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London experimental metal 4-piece Asian Death Crustacean (who have perhaps one of the best names we’ve seen here at AA all year) have shared another new track taken from their debut album. Released this summer ‘Baikal’, combines their breadth of influences in extreme metal, electronic/ambient music and the London underground jazz scene into an exploration of the themes of metamorphosis and self-transformation.

Listen to new single ‘Baikal V’ now:

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In recent years, French atmospheric rockers Klone have built their name on making music that’s as deeply introspective as it is sonically powerful. Le Grand Voyage, the band’s first release for UK post-progressive specialists Kscope on 20th September, is an album brimming with that sense of searching and self-discovery, its 10 tracks living up to its name in unabashed no-stone-unturned existential exploration.

“Our music allows the listener to travel and ask, ‘What is the spirit? What is the matter?’ and those kinds of questions,” says guitarist Guillaume Bernard. “The title refers to the wandering of the mind. It all came our singer [Yann Ligner] who came up with something in English like ‘The Great Journey’. We all liked the meaning but weren’t sure how it sounded. Eventually we realised it would be easy enough for people to translate and understand in our native tongue.”

Much of the inspiration on forthcoming singles ‘Breach’, ‘Keystone’, and ‘Hidden Passenger’ came from pondering the great philosophies of life, those eternal unanswered questions like who we are, where we are going and, ultimately, what happens next. It was the uncertainty and confusion surrounding mortality, the notion that something or nothing awaits us, which felt like an unlimited creative playground for the French art-rockers.

You can watch the video here:

Christopher Nosnibor

The Ocean certainly don’t do things by halves. The progressive metal act aren’t afraid to go large, delving wide and deep into major concepts, producing music with a sound to match. The band’s website explains ‘The Phanerozoic eon succeeded the Precambrian supereon, spanning a 500 million-year period leading to the present day, and it has witnessed the evolution and diversification of plant and animal life on Earth, and the partial destruction of it during 5 mass extinction events. Conceptually and musically, The Ocean’s Phanerozoic is the missing link between the albums Precambrian and Heliocentric / Anthropocentric.

Only, they do sometimes do things by halves: their most recent album, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic released in November is half of a two-album project that evolved and gestated during the five years spent touring Pelagial.

One suspects the current set of dates for the Phanerozoic tour won’t be the last, especially not with the second phanerozoic album due for release later this year or sometime next.

For all that, I’m actually here to see Herod, having been sold on the gut-churning abrasion of Sombre Dessein, released last month. The inclusion of the Swedish metallers makes much sense in context, given that the album explores the idea of ‘the end of our Judaeo-Christian and thermo-industrial civilisation’. What’s more, vocalist / guitarist Mike Pelat was a member of The Ocean Collective between 2007 and 2009, so there’s almost a sense of community reunion here, which is reinforced when current Ocean singer Loïc Rossetti joins them to complete the carnage at the end of the set – and it’s a strong set, which doesn’t disappoint.

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Herod

With dark, heavy atmospherics emerging from the darkness, they pile in with the first series of crushing power chords as the lights – minimal, blood-red – flare up to illuminate the band. They’ve got three guitars, and about 25 strings between them, which makes for a full, dense sound that brings a fully-weighted assault.

In contrast, with standard guitars, Downfall of Gaia sound a little thin at first, but once the ears have adjusted to the relentless blast of overdrive, they erase any trace of lesserdom. Having entered the stage to a low churning emanating from the PA, they play hard and fast, with the three-way alternating vocals providing texture and a constantly-shifting focus in terms of attention, there’s a lot going on. Frequent changes of tempo and blistering volume interspersed with ambient interludes and subtle piano passages make for a gripping set that’s something special.

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Downfall of Gaia

The Ocean’s legendary lightshow is truly something to behold, and in the intimate setting of The Brudenell, it’s blinding at times. again, they build the atmosphere for a grand entrance: smoke…. Minimal lighting…. A sound that sees Tubular Bells melting into ambience before a booming bass note sounds out and the band filter on stage to appreciative applause – which they repay with epic chords on a grand scale.

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The Ocean

It’s easy to understand the appeal and the reason why fans aren’t only singing along but constantly reaching out to shake hands with the band: their set is varied, textured, expansive, ranging from the deeply proggy, to the gnarly: it’s palatable but powerful and packs no shortage of abrasion, offset with moments of breathtaking grace. And while Loïc Rossetti has possibly the most flexible neck in metal, and displays a most affable demeanour he still plays with aggression and edge. It’s a perfect balance.

3rd August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

A decade in existence and with three previous albums to their credit, instrumental prog band Tides of Man from Tampa, Florida, deliver album number four. While their first two albums featured vocals courtesy of Tilian Pearson (who, since his departure in 2010 has provided the ‘clean’ vocals for craply-named post-hardcore act Dance Gavin Dance and enjoys a solo career as Tilian), 2014’s Young and Courageous saw the band emerge as a very different, instrumental, entity.

This means that Every Nothing has been four years in the making. It’s an expansive post-rock / prog crossover, with the twelve compositions spreading and exploring in various directions, both in terms of mood and instrumentation. Ranted, the majority of the album weaves reverby soundscapes from chiming guitars, rolling drums and understated, strolling bass, breaking into the occasional sustained crescendo that alludes strongly to the slow-build and big-burst stylings of Explosions in the Sky. And while they do really work hard to delay gratification, to the point that there are moments the album borders on frustration, and much of the album is so much standard template form, when they do break out, as on ‘Old 88’, and the explosive, choppy breaking on ‘Everything is Fine, Everyone is Happy’, which veers into Shellac territory, it proves to be more than worth it.

Elsewhere, the spacious, wistful piano of ‘Far Off’ – a song that exists more in the echoes between the notes than in the notes themselves – reveals a band who are comfortable with giving the structures and sounds room to breathe, and the piano-led ‘Death is No Dread Enemy’ which slows the pace, lowers the tempo and conjures a reflective mood marks an atmospheric shift.

Every Nothing is by no means a high-impact album, or a set which even stands out as an exemplar in its field. It’ll never set the world alight, but is solid, and a pleasure to listen to. And that’s probably enough.

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Tides of Man

Christopher Nosnibor

Paul K first came to my attention with the release of Glitch Code’s debut album, Gifted_Damaged, a real standout release for 2016 in the sphere of dark electronic pop. Omertà saw Paul venture out as a solo artist last year, and revealed a very different musical aspect: instrumental, dramatic, and in places a bit proggy, it found him explore some expansive sonic territories with impressive results.

The Fermi Paradox sees Kirkpatrick expand on this – immensely. And expand is the word: this is expansive both conceptually and sonically, and he explained that ‘the album is about the theme of isolation, exploring our place in the universe and questions “are we alone?” to the perspective of social isolation through social media… It looks at the space race and the billions spent on wondering if we are alone in the universe vs. the juxtaposition of so many lonely people on our own planet.’

As such, The Fermi Paradox ranges from the macro to the micro, casting an eye to the farthest reaches to the most inner of anxieties. So while in terms of what it delivers, The Fermi Paradox isn’t a million miles from its predecessor, in terms of intent and focus, it’s a very different beast from Omertà.

Such isolation is something that’s immensely relatable: I’ve found myself in discussions with a surprising number of people, many with anxiety issues, conflicted over social media. It’s a different kind of paradox from the question of alien lifeforms the title refers to, but nevertheless, it’s a paradox. The dependence on the endless stream of posts and comments is countered by the despondency the belief that your own life is no match for others’, the sense that other people breeze through life, happy and carefree while your own life is fucked. Any sense of connection feels flimsy, secondary to a sense of disconnection and inadequacy. And what happens when, just for five r ten minutes, your phone goes silent: no texts, no notifications? The silence you’ve been craving is a howling void of emptiness.

It’s with ponderous piano and soothing strings that ‘Anomaly’ opens the album, and it’s mellow but twistedly poignant. It’s clear that Kirkpatrick knows how to tug at the emotions without words. The motif that runs through ‘Sagan’ makes me think of ‘Forever Autumn’ from ‘The War of the Worlds’ – surely one of the most heartbreaking songs ever committed to tape. Or maybe I’m just a sap. Nevertheless, regardless of whether this is about the music itself or my response to it based on, its drift into lilting piano and achingly sad strings is simply beautiful.

It’s on ‘Ecce Homo’ that Paul reaches into expansive territory, a cinematic, layered progressive-style piece with soaring chorals and supple rhythms, it drives, but also meanders. At times, as on the opening of ‘Exegesis’, Kirkpatrick slides into near-ambient territory, but for the most part, it’s about sedate, spacious soundscapes, defined by rolling, soft-edged bass. As the album progresses, the song titles suggest a shift from the more inward-looking to gazing out into the cosmos.

Are we alone? Always. Intensely. But with The Fermi Paradox, Paul K has produced a magnificently-crafted soundtrack to play into the void.

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