Odds & Ends: September 6, 2022

Band: General Admin | Album: techno techno techno techno | Genre: Math rock | Bandcamp

Leave it to a math rock band to have such an odd album title. (Then again, I might be disappointed by a math act giving a record a straightforward name.) The four tracks on this EP are energetic, anxious, yet also fun. The riffs are flashy, of course, and many of the melodies are surprising. It’s a to-the-point release that comes in, makes a statement, and does its job well.

Score: 77/100

Band: Gospel | Album: MVDM | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

MVDM is made up of just the titular 21-minute song (which actually has a much longer full title). The song was originally written back in the mid-2000s but lay unfinished for over a decade. This epic features lush, languid synths, technical, mathy riffs, and impassioned hardcore punk-style vocals. The song is exhilarating and features a ton of raw intensity.

Score: 91/100

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Album Review: Louison – Magnetic Feel

Artist: Louison | Album: Magnetic Feel | Genre: Jazz-fusion, Math rock, Progressive electronic | Year: 2022

From: Paris, France | Label: Independent

For fans of: newer Ozric Tentacles, Return to Forever

Bandcamp

Louis de Mieulle is a multi-instrumentalist and composer I’ve previously covered twice on this site. Since his last outing, there have been a few changes. He’s moved from the US back to France and rebranded as “Louison.” His new album, Magnetic Feel, is much more electronic and synth heavy than either of his Sideshow albums. He also performs (almost) all the instruments, whereas those two prior releases were recorded with bands. This solo approach has also forced him to be more structured in his songwriting, and considering some of my comments on Sid€show 2, that’s probably a net good.

Not everything is different on Magnetic Feel. Though de Mieulle bills this album as “cyberprog” and “retrofuture,” there is a grounding in jazz-rock, math rock, and the contemporary prog scene. Like the two Sideshow albums, this is entirely instrumental, and there’s a strong sense of sonic continuity across the ten songs here.

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Odds & Ends: July 11, 2022

Band: Artificial Brain | Album:Artificial Brain | Genre: Technical death metal, progressive death metal | Bandcamp

I remember there being a lot of hype around this band’s last album–2017’s Infrared Horizon–but it just never quite clicked with me. Their new self-titled album, though, is great. The riffs are blistering, dizzying, and mind-bendingly dissonant. The songs are well-built and feature some wonderful hairpin turns. Amid the mucky morass of gurgling vocals and growling guitars, lead guitar lines are often surprisingly melodic.

Score: 78/100

Band: Bess of Bedlam | Album: Dance until the Crimes End | Genre: Psychedelic folk, Canterbury sound | Bandcamp

This album varies between idyllic folk with psychedelic tinges and some Canterbury-leaning prog-pop. There’s a lot of good music here, but unfortunately, there’s also a fair amount of unspectacular indie-folk-pop. The weak moments are never bad, per se–just dull. And it’s usually quickly counteracted with a good song. If you’re looking for something arty but light, this isn’t a bad option.

Score: 68/100

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Deep Dive: Magma

Hamtaï! Welcome back to Deep Dive, my series where I explore the extended studio discographies of the giants of progressive rock and metal. I’ve got a weird one for you today: Magma, the founders of zeuhl. 

For those who don’t feel like reading massive entries in their entirety, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end of this piece. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this contextual element is often overlooked in many ranked-lists.

Magma has always been a weird band. I’ll delve into what exactly zeuhl is below, but even beyond the structural strangeness of their music, the band’s composition has varied wildly over the years. At the time of writing, Wikipedia lists 12 current members and 22 former members; and Rate Your Music names 11 current members with a staggering 89 former members. Much of this can be attributed to their frequent shifts in sound, ranging from their very wind instrument-heavy first albums, to mid-career funk experiments, to later albums which prominently featured vibraphone. Multiple vocalists have always been a signature element of their sound as well.

Magma has been incredibly consistent across their career, in terms of the quality of their work. Even their worst album isn’t all that bad. I’ll also give a quick shout-out to their live performances. I saw Magma on their 2016 US tour, and that was one of the absolute best live shows I’ve ever seen, only seriously challenged by my experiences seeing Rush and Moonsorrow. This column only covers studio output in any depth, but the live albums Hhaï and Retrospektïẁ (I-III) are some of their best work. I’m a big enough fan that I personally own the 12-disc live box set Köhnzert Zünd.

Before we get going, though, I’m sure those of you unfamiliar with Magma are asking…

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Album Review: Cratophane – Cratophane

Band: Cratophane | Album: Cratophane | Genre: Zeuhl, RIO, Progressive rock | Year: 2022

From: France | Label: Baboon Fish Label

For fans of: PoiL, Magma, Elder

Bandcamp

One of the great things about the decentralization of the music industry has been the ability of niche record labels to proliferate. As evidenced by the minuscule amount of good zeuhl from the 1980s, if you played an unpopular genre of music, it was tough to get your recordings a proper release. Now, though, I can name several labels that either specialize in or put out a significant amount of zeuhl. Soleil Zeuhl is the oldest of these, founded in 1999. More recent ones include Dur et Doux, Guerssen (primarily doing reissues of obscure past releases), and today’s focus, Baboon Fish.

Baboon Fish Label is a French zeuhl label that, lately, has averaged about one release a year. What this label lacks in quantity, they make up for in quality. They released an album by Nebulous Sun last year, which made it onto my year-end list; and I also am quite fond of their 2017 release from The Orvalians. The most recent release from this label is the self-titled debut from self-described “angular rock” band Cratophane. That “angular” label describes a lot of what Baboon Fish specializes in, and it’s especially fitting for this experimental instrumental act.

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Odds & Ends: December 20, 2021

Artist: Waqas Ahmed | Album:A Perpetual Winter | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp

This is a fun little EP from Pakistani-born, Romania-based guitarist Waqas Ahmed. It’s a bit cheesy, but in such a small dose it’s pretty enjoyable. Sometimes, I’m just in the mood for some flashy guitar work over a solid instrumental backing. A Perpetual Winter is strongly reminiscent of Dream Theater, so if that’s your cup of tea, I’d recommend this release as well.

Score: 79/100

Band: Chafouin | Album: Toufoulcan | Genre: Krautrock, Progressive rock, Math rock | Bandcamp

Toufoulcan overall has a stark sound, relying on ragged (mostly) clean guitars and odd, imposing riffs and rhythms. The mood varies from sinister to sunny, but those extremes never feel out of place. Synth embellishments flesh out the sound, and Chafouin utilizes repetition well to give each song a clear sense of build and direction. The individual tracks tend to be fairly short, and that adds a strong feeling of forward momentum.

Score: 81/100

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