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

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Album Review: Papangu – Holoceno

Band: Papngu | Album:Holoceno | Genre: Progressive metal, Zeuhl | Year: 2021

From: João Pessoa, Brazil | Label: Independent

For fans of: Mastodon, Magma, ‘70s King Crimson, Oranssi Pazuzu

Bandcamp

Zeuhl and metal are two genres which I’ve long felt would make fantastic bedfellows, but almost every instance of an attempted fusion I’ve found has been lackluster. Magma’s Šlag Tanz EP bills itself as jazz-metal, and that’s not too far off the mark; and the bands ni and PoiL frequently have moments where these two styles merge. Most other attempts at blending zeuhl and metal have come off as muddled, meandering morasses of aimless dissonance and irregular drumming.

Brazil’s Papangu, though, might be the best-realized example of zeuhl metal I’ve run across to date. Holoceno, their debut album, has been seven years in the making, and it tells the story of an environmental apocalypse–something Brazilians would understandably have on their minds.

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Album Review: black midi – Cavalcade

Band: black midi | Album:Cavalcade | Genre: Avant-prog, Zeuhl, RIO | Year: 2021

From: London, UK | Label: Rough Trade Records

For fans of: Frank Zappa, Magma, ni, John Zorn

Bandcamp

I mostly find my music through searching tags like “progressive metal,” “krautrock,” or “zeuhl” on Bandcamp, and I’ve found that’s a pretty good way to stay abreast of new releases. Some bands, though, put only low-effort, insufficiently descriptive tags on their Bandcamp pages (if they have a Bandcamp presence, at all), so about once a month, I’ll browse through the charts on RateYourMusic and ProgArchives to see if I’ve missed anything which might fall under the purview of this site. 

The tastes of RYM’s prog fans tend to skew in favor of the avant-garde and harsh, so when I saw that (as of writing), that site’s #1 record of 2021 so far was an avant-prog release from a band I’d never heard of, my curiosity was piqued. Avant-prog and brutal prog (a yocto-genre often featuring overbearing saxophone and aggressive, obtuse structures) are often hit-or-miss for me. Some of it is really daring and inventive, but a lot of it just strikes my ears as masturbatory weirdness and dissonance for the sake of weirdness and dissonance.

Cavalcade, the second full-length release from London-based band black midi, is an exciting, enthralling album that artfully blends the bizarre and bombastic with the restrained and melodic.

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Album Review: Neptunian Maximalism – Solar Drone Ceremony

Band: Neptunian Maximalism | Album: Solar Drone Ceremony | Genre: Drone, Krautrock, Experimental metal | Year: 2021

From: Brussels, Belgium | Label: I, Voidhanger Records

For fans of: Om, Sunn O))), Ash Ra Tempel, Van der Graaf Generator’s weirder stuff

Bandcamp

I briefly covered Neptunian Maximalism’s (NNMM) last album, Éons, in an Odds & Ends last year. I said that I liked the idea of that album—an abrasive, sax-forward assault of drone, psychedelia, zeuhl, and more—more than its realization. I’m not a big fan of drone, but I sensed that NNMM could put forward something a bit more palatable to my tastes while still maintaining that genre’s aesthetic language.

Solar Drone Ceremony is the second full-length studio release from this Belgian ensemble, and it contains just one 52-minute track. It’s a creepy, occultic album wrapped in befittingly H.R. Giger-inspired artwork showing some sort of sexualized alien ritual.

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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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Album Review: Xander Naylor – Continuum

Artist: Xander Naylor | Album: Continuum | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz-fusion, Post-rock | Year: 2020

From: New York, USA | Label: Chant Records

For fans of: Return to Forever, early Frank Zappa, Magma, The Mars Volta

Bandcamp

There is no shortage of instrumental EPs and albums put out by guitarists. Many of these releases tend to be self-indulgent and focused on technical soloing. Because of that trend, it’s always a refreshing change of pace when I run across someone like Xander Naylor, who functions more as a composer who just so happens to play guitar, rather than a guitarist composing pieces for his instrument.

Continuum is Naylor’s debut full-length record, and it reminds me of Steve Hackett’s solo material. Not so much in sound, but more so in that while there’s plenty of skillful instrumentalism, it isn’t to the neglect of structure or vision.

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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”