Album Review: Custard Flux – Oxygen

cfBand: Custard Flux | Album: Oxygen | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive folk, Psychedelic folk | Year: 2020

From: Detroit, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Comus, Van der Graaf Generator, Jan Dukes de Grey

Bandcamp 

Custard Flux is the brainchild of Detroit-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Gregory Curvey, and this is one of the more unique acts currently active in the progosphere. Custard Flux is a (almost) fully-acoustic band, with electric instrumentation being limited to a small number of guitar solos on this band’s first two albums. Acoustic guitar and harmonium have been the primary instruments this act’s sound has been built around.

Oxygen is Custard Flux’s third album in as many years, and it’s their best and most diverse yet. While the sound is still primarily acoustic, it’s been augmented with ample saxophone and violin. Electric guitar—in its rare appearances—feels more integral to the compositions, rather than being a solo laid on top of a fully-acoustic piece. The compositions are also the most daring and progressive they’ve recorded yet.

These trends are immediately evident in the two-part “Oxygen/Gelatinous Mass” which opens the album. The meter of the verses is weird and off-kilter, and the harmonium makes the chorus feel soaring and majestic. Harpsichord, guitar, and saxophone trade brief solos in the closing moments of “Oxygen” before transitioning to “Gelatinous Mass”. “Gelatinous Mass” is a four-minute instrumental section where sax takes the lead. If you’ve ever held any doubt that fully-acoustic music can deliver something lush and impactful, this will prove to you that it can. Diminished chords and the squealing soloing bring a sense of discord to the moments between the sinister main theme of the piece, which evokes the saxophone style of David Jackson of Van der Graaf Generator.

“You Can’t Get Away” shows Custard Flux’s poppy side. Violin and electric guitar add punchiness to the interstitial moments between vocal lines. Following the energetic closing solo of “You Can’t Get Away”, “Quarantyne” leans fully into the folk end of things. Simple acoustic guitar strumming and multi-tracked vocals are arranged in a way which makes quite an impression, and violin is smartly deployed during the chorus.

“Monster Island” is an energetic instrumental built around echoing acoustic guitar lines intercut with big, cinematic moments where ascending violin lines add a huge amount of drama. Following this is “I Feed the Fire”, which has the propulsive energy of “You Can’t Get Away” but with a minor-key atmosphere. The nervous verses resolve into an expansive chorus. “She Opens Her Eyes” and “Innocence and Peppermints” are both enjoyable cuts which draw heavily from late-60s psychedelic pop.

The nearly-nine-minute instrumental “Capacity Overload” closes the record. Electric guitar takes the lead in the song’s opening minute, and the percussion in this section is especially impressive, reminding me a lot of Keith Moon. Unusual acoustic chords echo out over one another, resulting in a delightfully disorienting experience. Twisting electric guitar eventually reenters and tightens up the sound as the song tumbles forward. “Capacity Overload” closes on an extended electric guitar solo, drenched in copious amounts of reverb, which only adds to the dreamy, fuzzy atmosphere of this song’s second half.

I thoroughly enjoyed both of Custard Flux’s first two albums, but Oxygen has blown them both out of the water. It’s a stunning synthesis of psychedelic pop, folk, and progressive rock that is coherent and intelligent. The diversity of styles and textures present are a boon. This album is truly engrossing and is going to place quite high in my eventual year-end best-of list.

Score: 94/100

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