Lebowski: Cinematic
  • Production
  • Composition
  • Musicianship
  • Artistic Presentation
  • Use of nasty, chintzy accordion patch

Allow me to introduce you to Lebowski, an Art Rock/Progressive Rock band from Poland, the country that brought your prog heavyweights SBB and Riverside. Like many progressive groups in the 21st century music scene, there is a decent gap between the band’s inception, in 2002, and their first release, “Cinematic”. The group’s 2010 debut is a textbook exercise in stereotyping, at least when it comes to the prog scene – they have written “music for a non-existent film.” Think about that for a second. There have certainly been numerous progressive albums composed and designed as soundtracks, but it seems an ostentatious idea to write the soundtrack to a blank reel. Ahh, Art Rock, how we love you.

I’m going to describe the sound of the album using the name of one food dish: pu-pu platter. If you have musical ADD, this is the perfect album for you. Passages will range from ethereal and sedated to mysterious and slightly dark. In fact, the only consistency throughout is the fairly consistent tempo and meter – either the band decided that their yet-unmade film needed a specific pace to it, or they forgot that you can adjust the speed on the metronome more than 10 BPM. The meter hovers around 4/4 pretty much throughout, which is disappointing from a progressive music fan perspective, but probably a good thing if you have the simple, unrefined tastes of the unwashed movie-going masses. But I digress – let’s return to the music.

Overall, the sounds present in the album were enjoyable. “Cinematic” is a journey, and Lebowski uses a combination of modern musical composition, vintage sounds, and strong style emulation to create a interesting musical experience. From what I understand, the theme and concept behind the album is recognizable figures in Polish and World cinema, which is great for Polish people and/or movie buffs and not as great for those such as myself who only watch films that make it to large American movie theater chains. I’m only sure about one of the film references; I’m 99% sure that “Old British Spy Movie” is a reference to James Bond movies, and I might have to declare my retirement if I’m wrong about that one. Either way, the broad scope of film styles creates a broad scope of musical styles, so there’s something for everybody. The track “Trip to Doha” features percussion and melody that will evoke scenes from Northern Africa and the Middle East. That doesn’t mean a track like, say, “Iceland” is going to sound Nordic. Just be prepared for some healthy sonic exploration, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

No true vocal parts on this album. All voice was either supplied courtesy of a female singer giving us some “oohs” and “aahs” and a generous amount of sampling, most likely lines from Polish films because I didn’t understand a damn word. Very cool, though. The sampled parts always fit the mood well, and I can’t recall a time that they felt out of place. As for instruments, expect to hear the standard rock trio of drums, guitar and bass, some percussion, some string instruments, and lots and lots of keyboards. The drums and bass are well performed, but were seemingly composed to support the melodies, so don’t expect to be overwhelmed at all. The guitarist didn’t blow me away, but I liked all of his riffs and I didn’t hate his guitar tone, so I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that the guitar plays a lesser role in this release and I found myself wanting more. In my opinion, the overdriven parts sounded significantly better than the clean ones, and the few solos he took were interesting, simple and effective.

Now to the keyboards. Keyboard patches and samples dominate this record, so let’s dive a little deeper into them. In “Encore”, for instance, we can hear the band’s inner struggle with wanting to integrate vintage sounds into an obviously modern composition. At the 1’15” mark, you’ll hear the chintziest 80’s accordion sound you’ll ever experience, which will either make you cheer or vomit uncontrollably depending on your disposition towards vintage keyboard tones. Then, at 2’45”, we get a more modern lead that could easily be a sawtooth with a symphonic effect behind it, followed by more nasty accordion. And in between? Short synth orchestra hits and what sounds like some sort of sine patch. I just wanted you to get the picture – this album is STUFFED with keys. I’m not going to lie, you’ll probably hate at least a few patches used in this album. But honestly, that is the best part about an interesting concept like this. You’re either going to enjoy the sounds or complain about them, but either way you’ll have something to talk about as you fully experience the theme at work here.

Unfortunately, I have a few complaints. Several songs (I’ll let you find out which ones) tend to drag a little at times. It’s not a huge deal, and this album rates as some of the best “chill” progressive music I’ve heard in some time, but I feel like the monotonous points are amplified during intense listening sessions where you focus intently on the music. But that’s a small complaint. My other problem is with the insane amount of reverb present on the this album. Do you remember, as a young boy (or girl), when you first discovered your junk and how much fun it was to play with? I feel like this happened with Lebowski and reverb. It’s seemingly always there: on every snare hit, even piano note, every keyboard patch, and every clean guitar chord. I would have even been fine if it wasn’t so wet. Just dry it up a bit on the next album. That’s all I’m asking.

Overall, a great debut from a very interesting band; this is a fine album that I anticipate enjoying many more times in the future. My recommendation? Buy a copy of the album, start up some art house film, put the television on mute, and give “Cinematic” a whirl. Who knows, maybe it’ll blow your mind.