Odds & Ends: April 5, 2021

Band: Grorr | Album: Ddulden’s Last Flight | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

Grorr are clearly trying to conjure up vaguely “Eastern” aesthetics on this album. The band’s logo evokes Chinese seals, and the album art draws from Chinese and Japanese styles. This continues in the music, though the influences are muddled and slapdash. The opening track is mostly scene-setting, but it give the listener musical whiplash by swirling together the entire continent of Asia. It’s got throat singing (from Mongolia and southern Siberia), sitars and tablas (from the Indian subcontinent), and the melodies are stereotypically “Chinese.” (Instruments which sound like guzhengs and erhus can be heard later on the album.) Moving beyond this mish-mash, Ddulden’s Last Flight is an alright album. The metal is melodic, and there are some inventive riffs. I’m especially impressed with the textures and timbres deployed here. After a while, though, the Oriental instrumentation becomes distracting. I absolutely hated the sitar by album’s end. And that’s unfortunate because Grorr demonstrated that they’ve got a creative vision and that they’re capable of composing some strong cuts. Ultimately, this record’s overbearing and half-baked Asiatic flare is what does it in. I really wish they would have toned it down a bit, or at least shown a bit more geographic restraint.

Score: 58/100

Artist: Jean Pierre Louveton (JPL) | Album: Sapiens – chaptire 2/3: Deus ex Machina | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp

When I saw JPL is the leader of the band Nemo, I didn’t get my hopes up. Nemo is an alright act, but I classify them in the same group Spock’s Beard and other schlocky, overblown retro-prog acts. Thankfully, this album wound up being a pleasant surprise. Sapiens is a bit more metallic than Nemo’s usual fare, and while there’s plenty of pomp and show-off-y instrumental moments, it mostly avoids needless indulgence. Jazzy touches are present throughout, and the overall bloat is minimal.

Score: 75/100

Band: Needlepoint | Album: Walking Up That Valley | Genre: Progressive pop, Jazz rock | Bandcamp

The Canterbury sound has lately been undergoing something of a revival after nearly five decades of dormancy. Needlepoint’s latest contribution to this micro-genre is a sunny, jazzy, intelligent record with clever melodies and creative structures. Some of the songs do blur together in the album’s second half, but the 10-minute title track closes Walking Up That Valley strongly.

Score: 79/100

Band: Permian Incident | Album: All the Things No Tomorrow Brings | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

Permian Incident is a Norwegian quintet which plays a bombastic, dramatic variety of progressive rock. It reminds me a lot of bands like Transatlantic or The Flower Kings in their tonal and melodic choices, though perhaps a bit more minor-key. I’m not a fan of the vocals; it often reminds me of AC/DC. Beyond that, though, the songs are well-structured, dynamic, and filled with enough surprises to keep it interesting.

Score: 72/100

Band: Rostro del Sol | Album: Rostro del Sol | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This bluesy, fuzzy instrumental record is incredibly listenable, and it’s great music to have on in the background. However, when engaging with this record more actively, it falls into the pitfalls of many other instrumental prog acts. The musical ideas here enjoyable but hardly unique. This jammy style was quite popular in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and I’m confident it would kick ass in a live setting. As an album, though, the songs sag under their own weight, and much of this record sounds like music I’ve heard before.

Score: 64/100

Band: Writhing Squares | Album: Chart for the Solution | Genre: Space rock, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This Philadelphia-based duo has carved out a unique niche for themselves in the world of progressive rock. Bass is the lead instrument on this record, overdriven, compressed, and strummed like a guitar. Wind instruments like sax and flute play prominent roles, and the percussion has a sparse, krautrock-y minimalism. Running throughout all this is a lo-fi, homemade aesthetic which suits it very well. Hawkwind and Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come are the most obvious parallels for this record, but Writhing Squares are their own band. The only downside is that this album is longer than it needs to be. None of the individual songs are bad, though, and I’m sure trimming it down would be more difficult than one might think.

Score: 83/100

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