Marimba? Check. Harp? Check. Mandolin, tubax, thermin, mellotron, glockenspiel, prepared piano, contrabass, clarinet, hammond, etc? Check. Oh yeah, there’s guitars, bass, drums, and a bit of vocals in there too—I mean, Iridule is a rock album, right? Right… but it’s a rock album very unlike most. Italy’s Yugen definitely does not shy away from being at the cutting edge of progressive rock with their third album which maintains their signature avant-prog approach and RIO aesthetic. Complex meters with jolting time changes, frantic evolution of instrumentation, and an ultra deviant sense of melody and tonality, Iridule does just about everything it can to break the rock music norm, going far beyond where most “progressive” acts would even dare.
I do not hesitate to say that Yugen has perfected their craft with this third release. With little use of distorted guitars, Yugen brilliantly pulls off moments that are dark and heavy enough to more than satisfy the most extreme metal fan’s crave for brutality. However, Iridule does not short-change the listener when it comes to beautifully crafted subdued passages; large portions of each song are dedicated to the fabulous weaving of uncanny textures that never allow you to just sit back and passively listen. At other times Iridule can be quite the psychotic mix of 20th century atonality violently blended with jazz fusion and funk.
What impresses me so much about this album is that somehow, in all of its avant-rock glory, Iridule comes off as a strangely approachable album. I attribute this to three key aspects of their music that ensures that the active listener sees the big picture, and thus does not drown in the more “experimental” elements: Iridule is an album laced with tangible texture, strong themes, and discovery. Their constant use of a/polytonal percussion by means of marimba, glockenspiel, prepared piano, and harpsichord creates a dense fabric of texture that transcends your auditory senses. Its effects are often dark, haunting, or dreamlike, as they transform, evolve, and flow in ultra smooth ways that make sense despite the absence of tonal clarity. There exists the sensation of touching this music as its sound waves seem to physically envelop you.
Yugen makes great use of recognizable motifs in most every song on this album. After a couple of listens you come to realize that Iridule has its conventions that make the listener a part of an intricate conversation between instruments, melodies, and rhythms. Yugen tends to take a melody or rhythm and play with it throughout the entire song; it may be a short sequence of note values or a chromatic run, but you will definitely hear it bouncing around and being twisted and torn apart by the plethora of instruments that each song presents.
Finally, there is an exciting aspect of discovery in Yugen’s music. Although it is initially a bit confusing, I was surprised by how quickly I found myself recognizing distinctive elements of their music. It is chaotic, yet somehow predictable once you begin to get in on their secrets. I often find myself playing the game of trying to seek out and recognize conventions and motifs in each song; Iridule has great replay value; it empowers the listener to discover new things about the music with each listen.
The lyrics for the album, taken from Vladimir Nabokov’s postmodern novel Pale Fire, provide insight into the heart of the album. Nabokov’s synesthesia somehow serves as an overlying structure for this work of art presented in a medium that is auditory by nature (music), but somehow appeals more to the sense of touch than anything else. Yugen’s choice to use Nabokov’s words, “We are most artistically caged,” at the end of the first vocal interlude, carries a glaring sense of irony. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to this fine album that Yugen offers us. Iridule successfully manages to transcend genre boundaries; it is somehow a jazz album without being jazz, a metal album without being metal, a prog album without being prog, and even a 20th century classical album without being classical (or released in the 20th century, for that matter). Iridule, while being a hard album to place, is a fantastic musical journey and an essential album for all those who still enjoy sitting down and listening actively to music. Highly recommended!