Odds & Ends: September 6, 2021

Band: Antinode | Album:The Canary the Named the Stars | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

The three songs on this long EP/short LP are solid, spacey progressive rock with subtle touches of jazz, metal, and indie rock. I’m a big fan of the instrumental tones and textures, and despite the songs’ lengths, they never feel like they’re dragging. There’s significant internal variation on all three tracks, and there’s a natural flow to the way the compositions evolve.

Score: 81/100

Band: Big Big Train | Album: Common Ground | Genre: Neo-prog, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

I have never understood the appeal of Big Big Train. They’ve got the occasional decent song here or there, but I’ve never enjoyed an entire BBT album. They often come off as saccharine and glossy, like a worse version of Spock’s Beard. Maybe I’m too much of a dour Debbie Downer to enjoy such unashamedly major-key music, but the opening “The Strangest Times” exemplifies my lack of fondness for this act. It’s bright, sunny piano-pop that doesn’t strike me as particularly proggy in any definition of the word. Successive tracks are significantly better, though it’s still not exactly my cup of tea. Much of this album comes off as soulless and plain, to say nothing of the bloat. The band sounds stuck in the mid-’90s’ prog scene, a sound which was fine for its time but was rightfully cast aside at the turn of the century. The lushness hobbles the band’s ability to make any real splash, and everything on here has been done much better previously by other artists, often half a century ago.

Score: 51/100

Band: Birth | Album: Birth | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This band’s self-titled demo EP is a strong recommendation for fans of the band Astra. Both bands hail from San Diego, and members of Birth specifically cite Astra as a major inspiration for this project. It’s cosmic, Mellotron-filled retro prog, and the murky production is even reminiscent of Astra’s masterpiece, The Weirding. Birth is dark, dramatic, and full of emotive guitar lines and alluring grooves. The band shows a knack for balancing digestible motifs with lysergic instrumental escapades.

Score: 86/100

Band: Fragile | Album: Beyond | Genre: Progressive rock| Bandcamp

This album is both more enjoyable and more original than what I would have expected from an act which began life as a Yes cover band. It’s undeniably Yes-y prog, but the band members show a creative flair which demonstrates they’re capable of living outside of Yes’s direct shadow. My biggest issue with this album is honestly the production. It sounds like it’s been ripped off a CD at a low bitrate, compressed a few times, then burned and re-ripped at an even worse bitrate. It’s not quite as terrible as Gold & Grey, but it is distracting. The compositions themselves are quite strong, though.

Score: 69/100 (if you can ignore the production, add another 9 points)

Band: Vayu | Album: Wrath | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive electronic | Bandcamp

I’m not wild about the vocals on this album, produced primarily by the vocal synthesizer Vocaloid. However, if you can get past that feature (or if you like Vocaloid music), the instrumental elements are engaging. These three lengthy tracks are internally diverse, with good dramatic progressions. The music churns and evolves steadily, so no one idea lingers for too long. Rock and electronic influences trade the spotlight fluidly with odd rhythms and flashy solos.

Score: 79/100

Band: Wax People | Album: Wax People | Genre: Progressive metal, Zeuhl | Bandcamp

I will admit the “zeuhl” tag is on here mostly because of the prominence of bass clarinet. These chunky metallic riffs being played on a reed instrument lend a strongly Magma-ish atmosphere to the work. This is an enjoyable EP of instrumental, somewhat math-y, progressive metal. The guitar and clarinet lines are weird and technical, and there are some inventive musical phrases in here as well. Most of the songs feel a hair long to me, but this is a solid overall release.

Score: 77/100

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