Odds & Ends: December 14, 2022

Band: Ahleuchatistas | Album: Expansion | Genre: Math rock, RIO | Bandcamp

Ahleuchatistas are something of an outlier when it comes to bands I like. I’m often not a fan of improv-heavy acts that sound like they’re constantly on the verge of falling apart, but this trio always manages to thread the needle of tight, complex riffs and wonky, off-kilter meters with loose improv. Expansion feels a bit more composed than some of their past work, and that pays dividends here. The riffs are weird and wild and wiry, and the songs have an odd, shambolic energy to them. This is a bizarre and rewarding album.

Score: 81/100

Band: Fren | Album: All the Pretty Days | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

Had I known Wiosna was a single off an upcoming album and not an EP, I wouldn’t have reviewed it. But alas! All the Pretty Days is Fren’s second full-length album. Much like their debut, it’s melodic and dramatic instrumental prog. The songs are engaging and attention grabbing, and despite their length, there is very little bloat here. This reminds me of Änglagård’s best work while also being distinct. Hints of jazz pop in from certain piano lines, giving flashes of Magma’s lighter moments.

Score: 78/100

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Album Review: Magma – K​ã​rt​ë​hl

Band: Magma | Album: K​ã​rt​ë​hl | Genre: Zeuhl, Jazz-rock | Year: 2022

From: Paris, France | Label: Seventh Records

Bandcamp

Magma returns with a new studio album and a frustrating set of diacritics that make writing about this album in Google Docs a hassle. K​ã​rt​ë​hl follows 2019’s Zëss, the conclusion of the Kobaïa mythos, so I have no idea where (or if) this fits into the story of the Kobaïans. (For more on that, check out my Magma Deep Dive!)

Where Zëss ended things on a bit of a somber note, K​ã​rt​ë​hl has a noticeably sunnier disposition. It’s distinct from Félicité Thösz, but it shares that same general uplifting hopefulness. Magma has always been good at conveying emotion, whether it be the doom-and-gloom of “De Futura” or the celebratory warmth of “Öhst”.

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Album Review: Phaneronaut – Anabasis

Band: Phaneronaut | Album:Anabasis | Genre: Zeuhl, Post-rock, Progressive electronic | Year: 2022

From: Munich, Germany | Label: Independent

For fans of: Magma, Pink Floyd c. 1969, Dreadnaught, Faust

Bandcamp

Phaneronaut is a one-man project out of Germany with an inclination for weird, experimental electronics and sharp contrasts in tone. In the three years the project has been active, they have been quite prolific, so I have not listened to their whole back catalog. What I have heard, though, is strongly reminiscent of early krautrock acts, often landing somewhere between Neu! and The Cosmic Jokers.

This album, then, marks something of a shift in Phaneronaut’s sound. Originally envisioned as having two contrasting halves–a “wood” side and a “metal” side–the project evolved into something else, though the “metal” concept remained. Thus, where previous works are synth heavy and quite electronic, Anabasis features sounds (synthesized or otherwise) that use metal in their production. So the celestial synths of earlier works are reduced, and now there are much earthier tones, meant to portray a (possibly hallucinatory) journey to heaven.

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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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Album Review: Somalgia – Inverted World

Band: Somalgia | Album:Inverted World | Genre: Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: UK | Label: Repose Records

For fans of: Sigh, Porcupine Tree, Kesem

Bandcamp

Records like this one are why I’m glad I decided to lump music released in December 2021 with 2022 for my year-end list-making purposes. I’m often in a bit of a rush getting my draft lists off to my editors, and trying to find new music in the midst of that is a fool’s errand. Somalgia’s debut album–Inverted World– was released in mid-December, and it’s a fantastic blend of genres, including progressive rock, black metal, trip-hop, and psychedelia.

Somalgia is an English duo who go so far as to label their music “post-genre.” It’s certainly a diverse release, especially as far as progressive rock and progressive metal go; but they’re not doing the stereotype of pretentious prog-rockers any favors with this sort of posturing. The lyrics are also a bit 14-year-old-who-just-saw-The-Matrix-and-is-now-a-conspiracy-theorist for my taste. The band has used the NPC wojak meme multiple times on their Instagram, as well as engaging in some 5G conspiracy. I get the feeling it would likely be unproductive for me to engage in political discussions with whomever wrote the lyrics.

Political gripes aside, Inverted World has a lot of fantastic music on it; and it’s situations like this one where I’m glad I’m good at just tuning words out most of the time.

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