Pick a genre of music, give it some pop, and see how it comes out. With some styles, it doesn’t seem to weird. Take pop country, for instance. That doesn’t really make my ears twitch at all (the term, that is; listening to it makes them bleed). Even with something very high brow like jazz, the pop version, “smooth jazz” is still pretty common place (also drives me nuts). But, it doesn’t work that way in all genres. Combine some ‘pop’ with ‘punk,’ and regardless of the quantity of Blink-182 clones out there, it maintains a strong sense of irony when you think of what the punk aesthetic used to be about: anti-establishment. Then, there’s the metal version, known as ‘screamo.’ Yes, it’s basically a more angsty version of hipsters that other metalheads would like to disavow. But what about prog? Does ‘pop prog’ exist? Generally speaking, I’d argue that what is commonly known as ‘indie’ in the United States would be the ‘pop’ equivalent of prog, but we’ll get into the discussion another day. As to what is ‘prog,’ or what is progressive if you prefer the term (and I would argue that they are two different things entirely), I’ll leave that decision up to each reader or fan. But, seeing as how this is an article, and it is to be found on a prog blog, I couldn’t help but avoid the discussion when it came to this weeks selection of mini-reviews: three albums, each of which contains prog elements and each of which exhibits varying degrees of pop influences.
Gazpacho – March of Ghosts
I generally don’t like music with poppy melodies or vocals, which this album has (please see above if you didn’t guess this already). BUT, this is a REALLY GOOD pop prog album. Although this is not my first encounter with Gazpacho I will say that this is my first memorable one. From the opener, “Monument,” the Norwegian sextet lured me into a world of pleasing textures and melancholic composition. Just seeing that the album contained a four part song cycle (“Hell Freezes Over”) grabbed my attention and let me know that Gazpacho has some big ideas in mind. The sounds of Gazpacho are colorful and tangible, somewhat psychedelic, and always very relaxing. If you are like me and never could really stomach bands like Radiohead and Muse no matter how much your friends wanted you to, you might find this album to be what you were hoping those bands were. Overall, March of Ghosts is a very accessible album that a large range of prog and pop fans will no doubt enjoy. I give it a 3.5; in other words, fans of the style will totally dig it. If I were super into this genre I could see it getting a very high, even a near perfect score. As a final note, the album cover is perfect; perhaps one of the most uncanny artworks I have come across in some time. There’s just something startling about the way the shadows dance behind a freakish bird sculpture set against a backdrop of orange light cluttered with red veins. Yup, that’s pretty much awesome.
Alias Eye – In-Between
Alias Eye straddles the line of progressive rock, hard rock, and progressive metal in wonderful ways. From balladesque piano movements to crunchy guitar riffing and even good ol’ bluesy rockn’roll, In Between manages to be everywhere on the map yet maintain a very distinct sound. In other words, you never get the impression that these guys simply didn’t know what kind of music to write. Their style is tight and distinct, and their execution of songs is clear and skillful. Phillip Griffith’s vocals are clear and spot on, recalling a bit of Damien Wilson meets 90’s hard rock in a good way. While his voice isn’t my favorite type of sound, Griffith is a phenomenal singer and his delivery across the album will please fans both old and new. If you like good rocking melodies and a band that can deliver good tunes that will get you moving as they combine catchy with smart, this is an album for you.
Balloon Astronomy – Balloon Astronomy
I was really excited about this album… at first. With “Even Odds,” the album kicks it off to with a slammin’ neo prog feel with top notch production and stellar performances. After the first time through, I thought to myself, “that was a pretty fun album.” However, with repeated listens, I began to feel less and less impressed. The quality of compositions is good, there is no doubt about that, the playing is skillfully executed, the the overall feel of the album is consistent. So, what was it that suddenly turned me off after several listens? The depth of the compositions seemed to be lacking. The more and more I listened to it, the more I realized that it was repeatedly sounding like the more contemporary christian style moments of some of the Neal Morse solo records. In other words, the prog factor quickly becomes less and less and the pop factor rapidly became more and more. Does this make it a bad record? No, the music is fine, but after a few listens I realized that it wasn’t really my taste. For fans of the style it’s probably pretty good, but as for me, I like my prog to help me discover more and more with additional listens, and Balloon Astronomy just wasn’t doing it.