My apologies go out to disappointed readers for my absence last week. I assure you that being out of my home state was indeed productive, as I was able to see Greg Walker from Synphonic Music and pick up a slew of prog albums, including the new Anglagard (incredible release, be prepared for a review soon!), talk with Greg a bit about Nearfest and his up and coming festival, Farfest (http://www.farfest.com/), enjoy Romantic Warriors II: About Rock in Opposition with the other members of the Progulator staff, and work on some personal music projects. We even have some new ideas for next years Proggies (I know you can’t wait, right?). That said, what are some of your favorite releases so far this year? Please feel free to post below, and of course, enjoy this week’s mini-reviews, all fantastic albums, of course!
Daal – Dodecahedron
The return of Italian proggers Daal with their fourth studio album captivates with its dark and mesmerizing tones, matching evenly the bleak and minimal design of their album cover which features a dodecahedron covered in runes. Following the theme of the album is the track listing, which creates a really intense impression: each track’s title is simply a number corresponding to one of the sides of the dodecahedron. This is an elite concept idea being put to work at its finest. The album recalls, in brilliant ways, not the Italian tradition, but the Swedish tradition of hauntingly dark progressive rock. Dodecahedron is an ambient, captivating instrumental work, with abundant layers of dark, creeping textures and tonalities. The bottom line is Dodecahedron could be the soundtrack to something very frightening. Daal’s combination of Mellotron and Moog with a vast array of traditional strings and woodwind instruments is nothing short of breathtaking. I guarantee that this album will fill your mind with all kinds of nightmarish textures.
Subtilior – Absence Upon a Ground
It didn’t take long as I was listening to Subtilior’s Absence Upon a Ground to think, “they must be on Altrock.” And they are, of course. Michele Epifani, of Areknames fame, heads up this avant-prog group which will definitely recall the likes of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd. As can be expected, Subtilior’s music is dark and nuanced, lending itself to an assortment of electric and acoustic instruments. One thing that caught my attention was the extremely subdued tone of the compositions. Absence Upon a Ground rarely seems to get ‘wild,’ however, that is not to say that it is lacking in intensity. Songs like “Un Coeur Mécanique” demonstrate the precise ability of Mr. Epifani to deliver haunting music that grabs you in subtle ways, which brought to mind some of the mesmerizing acoustic sections of Francesco Zago’s works. Subtiliour proceeds very carefully, building their music in the slightest of ways, at times barely even noticeable, but always immensely effective.
Altrock Chamber Quartet – Sonata Islands Goes RIO
I’m always intensely thrilled about anything from Altrock, a label which features among the finest artists in avant-progressive music. To my surprise, I found my thoughts were very polarized about this release, which at first had seemed like the greatest idea in the world: an acoustic chamber quartet covering some of the finest classic works of Rock In Opposition. Sonata Islands definitely proves themselves to be a fine act, both in their performances of these RIO pieces as well as their arrangements (you can check out some videos on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/emifluto). In virtually all cases these pieces work great in a small acoustic ensemble and are brilliant in and of themselves as Sonata Island masterfully pays tributes to RIO masters, both old and new, ranging from Fred Frith and Univers Zero to Yugen. So, the question becomes, what was it that I didn’t like about this record? I suppose it’s that in the end, when you take a RIO piece that was intended for electric ensemble or mixed electric/acoustic ensemble, it takes away much of the charm. In other words, you take out electric/rock instruments and all you are left with is basically 20th century chamber music, which is fantastic in and of itself, but it seems to me that part of the whole point of Rock In Opposition was to combine with rock music with 20th century music. It’s like Chris Cutler says in Zeitgeist’s new RIO documentary, RIO wanted to show that rock music is serious, that it’s a form that can do certain things that no other form can do. Despite Sonata Islands’ fantastic performances of these pieces, this was precisely the first thing that came to mind; what’s missing is the unique thing that the rock music form brings to the table in RIO. At any rate, this is still a great album that fans of RIO should enjoy. In this case, you just have to keep in mind that these guys are paying great tribute to some of our heroes, and they do a really good job at it too!