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

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Album Review: Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon

Band: Genghis Tron | Album: Dream Weapon | Genre: Progressive metal, Cybergrind | Year: 2021

From: Poughkeepsie, USA | Label: Relapse

For fans of: Cynic, Gorguts, Justice, the more electronic side of krautrock

Bandcamp

Part of the reason these reviews have been less frequent as of late is that I’m simply having a harder-than-usual time finding new music which really speaks to me. Unless it’s a fairly big-name act, I don’t have much motivation to write 400-800 words on a record where the score will be in the 50s. Thankfully, Dream Weapon came along and snapped me out of that funk.

I’d never heard of Genghis Tron before this album, and I can see why that might have been. They were initially active in the mid-2000s before taking a 13-year hiatus. I’d also never heard of the cybergrind genre, but it’s a fitting name. It takes the aggression and energy of genres like mathcore and grindcore and pumps it through synthesizers galore. (Interesting sidenote: “mathcore” is considered a real word by MS Word, but “grindcore” is not.)

What this record almost reminds me of is Justice’s debut album. Where is an electronic album with a significant hard rock/heavy metal substrate, Dream Weapon feels like it’s coming from the other direction. It’s definitely a metal album, but electronic music thoroughly imbues its DNA.

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Album Review: Meer – Playing House

Band: Meer | Album:  Playing House | Genre: Progressive rock, Art pop | Year: 2021

From: Hamar, Norway | Label: Karisma Records

For fans of: Bent Knee, Phideaux, iamthemorning

Bandcamp

Over the last two decades, Scandinavia has become one of the most prolific producers of prog in the world. Big-name acts (by prog standards) like Wobbler, Opeth, and Beardfish have made huge waves in the scene. Meer, a Norwegian octet, continues in this trend, blending complex compositions and arrangements with accessible, catchy pop tendencies (another Scandinavian tradition, which I’m considerably less fond of).

The eleven songs on Meer’s sophomore album, Playing House, show intense structural ambition. The music is densely layered, and the band utilizes dynamics to great effect.

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Deep Dive: Pink Floyd

Welcome to another installation of Deep Dive, where I take a look at the extended studio discographies of some of the biggest names in progressive rock. I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and that is an element often missed in a ranked list.

Today, I’m covering a doozy. Pink Floyd is the most commercially successful progressive rock act by a wide margin. Their global sales tally somewhere between 200 and 250 million records since their debut in 1965, placing them eighth all time among recording artists. The second-most successful prog act is Genesis, with roughly 100 million sales and significant non-prog output.

Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd were my two primary introductions to progressive rock, and those are my second- and third-most-listened-to acts, respectively, according to my Last.fm profile, trailing only The Beatles. I have a deep, intense love of their music, and Richard Wright is probably my single biggest influence as a musician. At the same time, don’t expect this to be a one hundred percent worshipful lovefest, as I have some (strong) opinions which are heterodox among the Pink Floyd fandom.

Unlike other artists I have covered or will cover in this column, Pink Floyd has a huge amount of material which either never saw official release or was released in unusual ways. As such, there is a significant portion of their output which will not be included in the ranking at the end, though I will address it in the body of this essay. Most of this oddball material was recorded 1965-1970 and was released as a part of the 2016 box set The Early Years, 1965-1972.

I will also refrain from ranking Pink Floyd’s live output, as that strays beyond the limitations of this column. That’s unfortunate, too, as Pink Floyd bootlegs from 1968-1972 are something of an addiction for me. Their live performances from this time period are fantastic and deeply interesting, and I really recommend you look into this material yourselves.

Part I: The Barrett Years (1963-1968)

Prior to becoming “Pink Floyd,” Roger Waters (bass), Nick Mason (drums), Richard Wright (keys), Syd Barrett (vocals, guitar), and Bob Klose (guitar) performed rhythm and blues and cut a handful of singles under the name The Tea Set. And immediately upon starting this piece, I’m struck by the issue of Pink Floyd’s massive catalog of unreleased and non-album material.

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Album Review: Toboggan – Première Descente

Band: Toboggan | Album: Première Descente | Genre: Zeuhl, Progressive rock, Jazz fusion | Year: 2021

From: Clermont Ferrand, France | Label: Independent

For fans of: PoiL, Dai Kaht, Al di Meola, Primus

Bandcamp

I covered Toboggan’s debut EP back in 2019, and I really liked what I heard. It was jazzy, funky, and high-energy instrumental zeuhl. Toboggan’s guitar/keyboard player, Etienne Mazoyer, is in another zeuhl band, ZWOYLD, which draws more heavily from traditional prog and psych tones. There’s a lot of shared DNA between these acts, so if you like what you hear here, I strongly recommend checking out ZWOYLD. (Especially their 2016 album, ZGOND.)

The cover art of Première Descente suits the music quite well. The twisting, spiral slide gives a sense of the wild, swerving nature of the songs. Structurally, the individual tracks follow a long-short pattern, with long cuts running 9-14 minutes, followed by sub-two-minute breathers.

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Odds & Ends – February 16, 2021

Band: Børeal | Album: Las Mariposas Agitan Sus Alas | Genre: Progressive rock, Alt-metal | Bandcamp

The debut EP of this Colombian four-piece combines the gritty, dirty guitar tones of early-‘00s alt-metal with engaging melodies, and diverse song structures. “Homo Homini Lupus” is a highlight, with its rolling rhythm and descending chorus. The band’s eponymous song closes out this brief release, and it’s my favorite of the bunch. This song is weird and draws the most heavily from modern metal. Some moments on this EP are a bit too evocative of the weaker elements of alt-metal, and some of the catchier melodies feeling incongruous against the harsh backing. Overall, it’s an enjoyable release.

Score: 79/100

Band: Dancing Sun | Album: Heart Tales | Genre: Progressive metal, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp

There’s a lot of variance in the styles and discernable influences on these individual tracks. While a somewhat heavy album overall, some songs go all-in on metal influences, while others draw from jazzier corners. Heart Tales’ longer songs are the obvious high points. The extra space allows Dancing Sun to have the most fun with structure. I’m not wild about the vocals on this album, but if you’re able to move beyond it (like I was), or if you wind up enjoying them, there’s some very good music here.

Score: 77/100

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Album Review: Steven Wilson – The Future Bites

Artist: Steven Wilson | Album: The Future Bites | Genre: Art pop, Synthpop, Soft rock | Year: 2021

From: Hertfordshire, UK | Label: Caroline International

For fans of: Steven Wilson’s other recent solo work – beyond that, I’m not sure; this is outside my normal wheelhouse

Buy

Steven Wilson, likely the biggest individual name in the current world of prog, returns with his sixth solo album. After making a name for himself with his longtime prog metal/rock band, Porcupine Tree, he struck out on a solo career (which I’ve documented here) that has tacked increasingly poppy over his last few releases.

Wilson had commented that he currently does not feel inspired when playing guitar, and his continued gravitation toward synthesizers is evident on The Future Bites. I have to give him kudos for following his musical heart and not kowtowing to prog traditionalists demanding another Deadwing or Hand. Cannot. Erase. I really respect him for broadening his horizons and playing what he wants to play. I wish more artists had that sort of integrity and adventurous spirit.

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Album Review: Chromatic Aberration – The Trial of the King

Band: Chromatic Aberration | Album: The Trial of the King | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: Cleveland, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Genesis, Yes, Rush

Bandcamp

Happy 2021, folks! I took a couple weeks off, but now I’m back to my usual (mostly) weekly posts. I’ve got a queue of EPs and other releases for an upcoming Odds & Ends. I’m also nearing completion on my next Deep Dive, so expect that in early spring. I haven’t posted a full-length review in over two months, though! So, I’m shaking off the rust and highlighting a fantastic two-piece out of Cleveland.

There’s not much about this band online. They’ve got no presence on Facebook or Twitter or anything beyond their Bandcamp page that I can find. That’s a shame, because The Trial of the King is a great way to start off the year. This record feels like an alternate universe where Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee were members of Yes. The overall sound palette is rich and full of retro synths, but the guitars are usually angular. The bass has a satisfying, snapping bite to it more akin to Geddy’s tone than Chris Squire’s usual overdrive.

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