Artist: Louis de Mieulle | Album: Side$how | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz fusion | Year: 2019
From: New York, USA | Label: Dalang Records
For fans of: Return to Forever, Magma, Brainticket, Probably a lot of those jazzy instrumental metal acts I don’t like
I’ve been pretty open in my general hesitance toward instrumental albums. I’m not the kind of person to pay attention to lyrics, but the human voice adds so much character to music, which can be quite difficult to make up for with just instruments. I don’t believe I’ve discussed it in any great detail on this site—though I’ve made a few comments about it on Reddit—but I am also not a fan of the current zeitgeist of jazzy, instrumental rock and metal epitomized by acts like Intervals, Plini, and Sithu Aye. So much of it just sounds like aimless, speedy noodling. Thank God this album avoids those pitfalls magnificently.
French-born bassist and composer Louis de Mieulle’s newest album, Side$how, is a constantly-engaging blend of ambitious instrumental progressive rock with many trappings of jazz. Touches of electronic genres and krautrock crop up throughout this release’s 41-minute runtime. Consisting of eight songs, titled “Bed of Nails, Part 1-8”, the music was mostly improvised and recorded live by de Mieulle, a pair of keyboardists, and a drummer.
Just based off this description, I would normally be wary and worried that this would wind up being an aimless morass of electric piano tinkling, but these compositions each have a unique character and feel purposeful. Part 1 opens with a jumpy bassline topped with stuttering organ licks. This evolves into a gliding synth solo before funky clavinet comes in. What is striking is how smooth and organic the transitions feel.
Part 3 feels as if it draws inspiration from video game music while avoiding the bland sterility of chiptune. The bass part is fun, melodic, and propulsive, and the fluttery staccato synth backing only adds to this energy. Part 5, meanwhile, clocking in at over 17 minutes, is the most adventuresome piece on Side$how. Not only does it draw from jazz, but also from krautrock, electronic music, and even zeuhl. The song pulses and throbs over sequenced synthesizers, using repetition with subtle, accruing changes to great effect.
The even-numbered songs on Side$how are all relatively short interludes, ranging from 90 seconds to a bit over two minutes. Despite their short length, they display an impressive amount of diversity, with textures and atmospheres ranging from melodic to dissonant and from gentle to harsh.
Side$how is a fun, upbeat collection of music. Each song on this album has its own distinct character while at the same time feeling like it belongs with the rest. The bass and key tones are consistent across the album, but they don’t become stale, thanks in large part to the musicians’ skillful interplay and de Mieulle’s inventive compositions.