Album Review: JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland – Oscillospira

jgtArtists: JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland | Alubum: Oscillospira | Genre: Avant-prog, Zeuhl | Year: 2020

From: Melbourne, Australia (Thirlwell) & Sweden (Steensland) | Label: Ipecac Recordings

For fans of: Magma, Univers Zero

Bandcamp | Spotify

JG Thirlwell is an Australian-born, Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist best known as the man behind the industrial act Foetus. He also acts the composer for the TV shows Archer and The Venture Bros, the latter of which is one of my absolute favorite shows. (It also made progressive rock a central plot element in one episode.) Simon Steensland is a Swedish multi-instrumentalist and composer with a long history in modern avant-garde rock music.

In addition to avant-garde and progressive rock influences, this duo makes extensive use of orchestral music. Much of this album sounds like it could have been the score for a creepy arthouse film. Atonal strings and minor key woodwinds dominate on this record, filling up most of the space not occupied by traditional rock instrumentation. Continue reading “Album Review: JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland – Oscillospira”

Odds & Ends – May 18, 2020

chBand: Cheer-Accident | Album: Chicago XX | Genre: Avant-pop, Prog-pop | Bandcamp

One moment this album is brimming with squirmy, atonal synthesizers with eerie vocal arrangements, and the next it’s mellow, artful pop rock. Despite hailing from Chicago, there’s a very British sense of weirdness to Cheer-Accident’s work, most comparable to the inimitable Cardiacs. Strains of post-punk and folk merge seamlessly with progressive and pop rock to create something truly distinctive.

Score: 76/100

daiBand: Dai Kaht | Album: Dai Kaht II | Genre: Zeuhl | Bandcamp

I like Magma a lot. They’re one of my favorite bands, and I’m positive I’ll eventually do a Deep Dive entry on them. However, their shadow is nearly inescapable in the world of zeuhl (outside Japan, at least). Dai Kaht are a Finnish act who draw a huge amount of influence from Magma. Their sound is more guitar-centric than Magma ever were. On a technical level, the musicianship and compositions are complex. For all its oddness, it’s surprisingly catchy, and it is somewhat unusual for a zeuhl act to have guitar as its main instrument. But in the end, this release mostly sounds like an updated version of Attahk. If you like zeuhl, give it a listen, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.

Score: 73/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – May 18, 2020”

Deep Dive: Rush

Welcome to the fourth installment of Deep Dive, where I take an in-depth look at the studio discographies of some of the giants of progressive rock and progressive metal.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, 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.

Rush is a band I’d always planned to eventually cover in this series. I’d made no firm plans as to when, exactly, but they were undoubtedly on the docket. Originally, this Deep Dive was slated to be a look at Genesis, but Neil Peart’s unfortunate passing earlier this year prompted me to push off the Genesis entry for a later date.

In the early 1970s, acts like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Atomic Rooster had demonstrated that trios could produce excellent progressive rock, but Rush pushed the capabilities of that limited format to its extreme with complex suites containing massive tonal variation. Even once Rush moved past their prog rock heyday, their music was mostly inventive, energetic, and—above all—distinct. Over the years, Rush became one of the best-known and most-successful rock acts of all time, particularly in their native Canada.

Subdivision I: The Early Years (1968-1974)

Rush formed in 1968 and originally consisted of guitarist Alex Lifeson (born Zivojinovich; “Lifeson” is an English translation of his Serbian name), bassist/vocalist Jeff Jones, and drummer John Rutsey. These early years saw a high degree of volatility in the band’s lineup, with Lifeson remaining the one constant. Jones left shortly after the band formed, soon replaced by Geddy Lee, and even Geddy was briefly out of the band in 1969. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Rush”

Album Review: Aridonia – Aridonia

arBand: Aridonia | Album: Aridonia | Genre: Stoner metal, Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Jujuy, Argentina | Label: Independent

For fans of: Tool, Kyuss, Baroness

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

Aridonia hail from Jujuy, a city in Argentina’s extreme northwest. That high-elevation, arid backdrop makes itself well-known on Aridonia, the band’s debut full-length record. Blues and stoner rock are the backbone of most songs here. The four musicians in the band are skilled and creative, so they’re able to twist those influences into something weird and exciting.

“Abismos” opens the album on a foreboding note. A simple, minor-key guitar pattern rings out, and haunting vocals join thereafter. It’s not long before the distortion kicks in, though, and the band begin playing a weird, high-energy stoner-jazz riff with subtle Middle Eastern touches. Aridonia pull out all the stops for this song. They cycle through odd musical themes, seamlessly blending stoner metal and jazz-fusion. “Fantasmagoría” begins with more traditional stoner metal fare, but the jazziness and exercises in technicality reemerge after the first verse. Continue reading “Album Review: Aridonia – Aridonia”

Album Review: Slift – Ummon

sliftBand: Slift | Album: Ummon | Genre: Space rock, Krautrock | Year: 2020

From: Toulouse, France | Label: Vicious Circle and Stolen Body Records

For fans of: Elder’s new stuff, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Fuzz

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Slift are a French trio who combine the ethos and aesthetic trappings of garage rock with cosmic atmosphere and mantra-like repetition. I was introduced to them via their 2018 album, La Planète Inexplorée. That album was great, and Ummon took everything I loved about it and cranked it up even harder.

Ummon is not a record for the faint of heart. It’s 72 minutes of garage-kraut-doom (or maybe doom-garage-kraut) with barely any breathing room. Huge, abrasive walls of guitar dominate this record, while chaotic bursts of noise pummel the listener. The band members themselves give fair warning on how key repetition is to this album’s sound on their Bandcamp page (or, as they phrase it, “r r e e p p e e t t i i t t i i o o n n”). With all this in mind, if you’re willing to give it a shot, this album is highly rewarding. Continue reading “Album Review: Slift – Ummon”

Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020

a1331639050_10Band: Ak’chamel, The Giver Of Illness | Album: The Totemist | Genre: Krautrock, Psychedelic folk | Bandcamp

The Totemist is a swirl of ritualistic atmosphere and repetition. The murky aura augments the contrasts between the sharp notes of the acoustic instruments and the omnipresent, sinister drone. The compositions morph in naturalistic ways, and subtle touches of jazz are worked in amid the faux-shamanic folk, resulting in something quite creative.

Score: 75/100

a2807075973_10Band: Cthulhu Rise | Album: Last | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp

This instrumental Ukrainian band reminds me a lot of Liquid Tension Experiment. The roots of the act’s sound clearly derive from Dream Theater-style melodic prog metal, but jazz plays a large role here too. The individual musicians flaunt their chops on the three songs here, but the soloing always comes off as purposeful. Each track is full of surprising twists and turns, with few ideas sticking around for more than about a minute at a time. Somehow, it avoids feeling disjointed.

Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020”

Album Review: Vinyl Dial – The Flight of the Crown Hawk

vinBand: Vinyl Dial | Album: The Flight of the Crown Hawk | Genre: Progressive rock, Space rock | Year: 2009/2019

From: Bedford, UK | Label: Seaside Tapes

For fans of: Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Pulsar, Tool

Buy/Listen: Stream Bandcamp

Vinyl Dial has had an unusual creative trajectory. The Flight of the Crown Hawk was originally recorded and released on MySpace in 2009. However, in 2019 it got a remaster and was officially released on Seaside Tapes, a label focused primarily on DIY-electronica and vaporwave. In the intervening years, this one-man project has put out a handful of electronic and vaporwave releases, in addition to other space rock/prog rock releases.

The Flight of the Crown Hawk is not shy about just how much of the music is inspired by Porcupine Tree’s early work. The first proper song, “Shapes in the Clouds”, begins with spare acoustic guitar, airy synth pads, and murky, effects-laden vocals. It slowly slithers along for its first half, and the guitar solo sounds like it’s straight off Porcupine Tree’s Signify. The song’s second half plays with stranger rhythms, heavier guitar tones, and cosmic synth leads. Continue reading “Album Review: Vinyl Dial – The Flight of the Crown Hawk”