Whether you love it or hate it, music keeps evolving, and even prog is starting to put on some new faces. Recently everyone’s been going on about the recent prog/hipsters/new folk article, and yes, while it is perhaps ignorant, under-informed, or just trying to skate around the idea of prog, there is one thing embedded in it that I think we have to give some credit to, and that is that if prog ever were to become mainstream it would be appropriated by the mainstream and perhaps contribute a sort of popular music that is at least executed by competent musicians. If that were to ever happen, I think we already have a glimpse at what it may look like through the new Gazpacho album, Demon, a record which is drenched in musicality and passion while maintaining a sense of approachable with its distinctively modern sound. I’m not saying the only thing that prog has in its future is K-Scope, which would be far from the truth, but what I am saying is that bands like this may certainly go a long way in bridging the divide and bringing in new fans to prog. Here’s hoping at least.
Gazpacho – Demon
Gazpacho’s new album Demon is a monster of a record. March of Ghosts was good, but this is something else altogether, reaching a level of depth and maturity that is beyond what they’ve done in the past. It’s evident from the first moments of the album, “I’ve Been Walking.” It’s in the way that, for example, the way the piano ritards between chord changes, creating long breaks in the vocal lines and delivering maximum tension, only to be juxtaposed later by an elegant string section all the while the singer delivers a passionate performance. The record is really built off of simple melodies that really count and carry their wait. “I’ve Been Walking (part 2)” carries the first motifs even first, this time over swelling, powerful synths that grow into something quite powerful. The variety on the album is always careful and nuanced, never just a gimmick. This is evident in the use of the old gramophone style recording that’s used for uncanny effect, building into an eventual climactic ending. “Wizard of Altai Mountain” and the closer, “Death Room” both pull in folk elements, the former moving from a very modern piece to a full out folksy accordion dance. “Death Room,” on the other hand uses it to lead into a haunting heavy section, a mood that dominates this piece through and through with the constant sense of uneasiness, beginning from the repetitive syncopated descending pattern in the intro right through flanked by ghostly ambient sound effects, right up through the plodding, dirge-like march that oozes beauty. Demon is one of those 2014 albums that you don’t want to pass up. Don’t make the mistake I did the first time by listening to it quiet in the background. Put it on loud and you’ll be wowed.
Brimstone – Mannsverk
Hailing from Norway, Brimstone is the embodiment of the modern desire for retro. Sometimes this is a bad thing, but here it’s perfect. Basically they’re straight up prog/psych and have nailed down the grooves and instrument sounds to a tee, perhaps even going beyond retro in a postmodern sense. Where they tack on their bit of modern flavor is in the vocals, which end up being a bit on the sloppy indie side for my tastes, but oh well, the whole of the sound is still phenomenal. Early on, “Rubberlegged Man” caught my attention with its intro that tosses in some non-conventionality with tuned percussion battling against distorted guitar before diving into a swirl of vintage textures driven by Mellotron, Hammond, and chorusy guitars. “Voodoo” met my fancy with some psych meets folksy organ while “Flaming Lips at Ankle Height” nailed this thick, dirty sound on the intro melody that was absolutely delightful, apart from capitalizing on delicious grooves and a silly song title. Finally, “This is the Universe” goes to great lengths to sound retro with its decrepit piano part over a latin-esque feel in the middle, but what really grabbed me was the bombast of the tron choir followed by gritty guitars. In the end, this is a catchy, even dancy piece full of drum and bass that really grooves. If there’s one last thing that needs to be mentioned its that Brimstone is all about MELODY. Wow, this band really knows how to walk that line of being catchy, melodic, and bouncy without ever leaving you feeling that they are resorting to cheap pop tricks. Well played.
Anilah – Warrior
Based out of Canada, Anilah’s album Warrior presents an interesting mix of styles, ranging from new age to metal. The whole thing has sort of a pseudo eastern feel as it flows between atmospheric keys and effects to echoing female vocals and even heavy guitars. The title track is a solid example of this as it starts of soft and atmospheric and gradually builds until it becomes a sky of slow, trudging distorted guitars under ethereal voices. “Medicine Chant” starts us off with chanting vocals, shakers, and a steadily beating drum and slowly adds layer upon layer before reaching its end at fifteen minutes. To sum it up, Anilah is probably more new age than it is prog, but it does make for good meditation/background music.