Odds & Ends – July 11, 2019

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Odds & Ends is a recurring column where I cover short releases and albums I wasn’t able to commit enough time to for a full-length review.

custBand: Custard Flux | Album: Echo | Genre: Psychedelic rock, folk rock | Bandcamp

Custard Flux has a neat little gimmick. With the exception of one electric guitar solo, all instrumentation is acoustic. This band’s particular blend of psychedelic pop and folk rock with progressive leanings results in something unique. Despite being almost all acoustic, the music is bombastic and impactful, and there’s a nice mix of the straightforward and the weird.

Score: 80/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – July 11, 2019”

Album Review: Moon Letters – Until They Feel the Sun

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Band: Moon Letters | Album: Until They Feel the Sun | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2019

From: Seattle, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Yes, Genesis, Camel

Buy: Bandcamp  Amazon

Moon Letters are the first of my fellow Seattleites to be featured on my blog. I’ve seen them live a handful times, and they put on a fantastic show. I was introduced to them when they opened for Pinkish Black at the show with the most confusing lineup that I’ve ever personally been to. (The four bands played retro-progressive rock, Bulgarian folk, punk, and spacy gothic rock.)

This group, like many in the contemporary progressive rock scene, heavily base their sounds on the giants of the genre. Yes and Genesis are their two clearest influences, but the songwriting is original enough for them to rise above the territory of schlocky knock-offs and stand on their own as a distinct band. Continue reading “Album Review: Moon Letters – Until They Feel the Sun”

Album Review: Baroness – Gold & Grey

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Band: Baroness | Album: Gold & Grey | Genre: Sludge metal, Progressive metal, Hard rock | Year: 2019

From: Savannah, USA | Label: Abraxan Hymns

For fans of: Mastodon, Adrift, Inter Arma

Buy: Many options

Baroness are one of the biggest acts in all of progressive metal. Their first two albums (Red Album and Blue Record) are beloved by the prog metal community for their creative fusions of sludge metal, progressive rock, and some surprising pop sensibilities. Their sprawling third album, Yellow & Green, was a noticeable step down in quality, featuring a lot of music that sounded like attempts to make radio-friendly hard rock. There was still good music here, but it should’ve been cut down to one album. Purple, released in 2015, was a step up. It was a metal album, for sure (and a pretty good one, at that), but it still wasn’t on par with those first two albums.

So, with Baroness’s recent ups-and-downs in mind, I approached this album somewhat cautiously. The singles were okay on the whole. Some were certainly better than others, but this is a long record, so I tried to keep an open mind.

The music itself is varied in its quality. The addition of guitarist/backup vocalist Gina Gleason works very well. Her backing vocals add a rich, new character to the music, and she and lead vocalist John Baizley sound great together. Continue reading “Album Review: Baroness – Gold & Grey”

Odds & Ends – June 20, 2019

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Odds and Ends is a segment where I do brief reviews of albums I either didn’t prioritize for longer-form reviews, or ones for which I don’t have that much to say.

a1413993540_10Band: BLASTAR | Album: Construct | Genre: Progressive rock, Jam band | Bandcamp

I really loved BLASTAR’s debut album, so I was very excited when I saw them announce their latest release. On Construct, they’ve opted to go fully instrumental. The music is cosmic and high-energy, and the overall sound has shifted more in the direction of jam bands like Aqueous or Umphrey’s McGee, with jazz and folk tones. As I’ve frequently said, it can be tough to make an instrumental album consistently engaging, but this does a good job of holding the listener’s attention. That’s not to say it doesn’t have faults, but it’s enjoyable on the whole.

Score: 77/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – June 20, 2019”

Album Review: Dreadnought – Emergence

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Band: Dreadnought | Album: Emergence | Genre: Progressive metal, Doom metal | Year: 2019

From: Denver, USA | Label: Profound Lore Records

For fans of: Tool, Cormorant, Panopticon

Buy: Bandcamp| Amazon | Apple Music

Like any metal subgenre, doom metal has an abundance of sub-subgenres, including stoner-doom, death-doom, and funeral doom. Prog-doom, to my disappointment, is one of the less-proliferated of these, even when put in the context of progressive metal. Other prog varietals—like black, sludge, and death—far outstrip progressive doom in both volume and prominence. Of the rather small cohort of bands who do fuse the murky, morose field of doom with the artistry and ambition of prog, Dreadnought are at the forefront.

Emergence is the fourth full-length release from this Colorado quartet, and it’s a logical progression from their last release, 2017’s A Wake in Sacred Waves. AWISW was among my favorite albums from that year, so this was a highly, highly anticipated release for me. I’m pleased to say it lived up to my hopes and exceeded my expectations. The sound on this album is massive—far more imposing than would be expected of four musicians. The guitar attacks in thick walls of guttural distortion, while the piano thunders and adds a certain weightiness rarely heard in metal. Continue reading “Album Review: Dreadnought – Emergence”

Album Review: Dizzy Mystics – Wanderlost

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Band: Dizzy Mystics | Album: Wanderlost | Genre: Progressive rock | Year:  2019

From: Winnipeg, Canada | Label: Independent

For fans of: Tool, RX Bandits, Children of Nova

Buy: BandcampAmazonApple Music

“Dizzy” is an apt adjective for this Manitoban quartet. The music here is packed to the brim with tight, technical riffs played at a breakneck pace. But this isn’t some math rock-style exercise in sheer complexity, nor is it some John Petrucci-style masturbation session. Dizzy Mystics are shockingly melodic in their compositions. Wanderlost is definitively not a metal album, but the closest analog is Tool. The melodies seem rooted in a similar strain of ‘90s alt-rock and are run through a similar artistic lens, albeit one with less distortion.

Folk influences are pervasive. Mandolin and acoustic guitar are often given prominence, and the technical skill combined with the tempo can give some echoes of bluegrass at times. There’s even the occasional flash of 1980s-Rush-style-vaguest-hint-of-reggae touches. Continue reading “Album Review: Dizzy Mystics – Wanderlost”

Album Review: PoiL – Sus

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Band: PoiL | Album: Sus | Genre: Progressive rock, Zeuhl, RIO | Year: 2019

From: Lyon, France | Label: Dur et Doux

For fans of: Magma, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ni, Frank Zappa

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

I’ve written before of France’s unique place in the world of progressive rock. Of the countries with distinct national sounds, theirs has always been the most unashamedly weird, fusing progressive rock with jazz and avant-garde music. Zeuhl was an almost-exclusively-French genre for the first twenty or so years of its existence, and two of the five founders of the Rock in Opposition (RIO) scene were Francophone. (Univers Zero were from the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium.) PoiL, the experimental Lyonnais trio, are one of the most prominent contemporary bands carrying on this tradition.

Last year, PoiL fused with the band Ni to become three-sevenths of the supergroup PinioL. Ni’s particular brand of experimental rock music has frequently bordered on metal, and on Sus, it sounds as if some of that may have rubbed off on the guys in PoiL. PoiL lacks a guitar player, but that doesn’t stop the band from laying down their heaviest music to date. The bass on this album crunches and snarls; the electric piano pounds out weird, dissonant chords; and the drumming is downright virtuosic. Continue reading “Album Review: PoiL – Sus”