For the third, and final, installment of the review of discs I picked up at 3RP, we travel 'round the world, from Canada and Mexico to France, Italy, Belgium, and Finland. Prog knows no boundaries, both physically and musically. Here we go:
Cabezas de Cera, by Cabezas de Cera (2000): This is a really hard disc to pin down. CdC is a Mexican trio, consisting of a percussionist, string guy (guitar, bass, Stick), and another guy on woodwinds. In addition, from what I remember of reports of live performances, including a storming set at NEARFest this year, they have a collection of homemade instruments to bring to bear as well. Put that all together and you’ve got some really interesting tunes (mostly instrumental) with a lot of variety in terms of sonic texture. Some of it’s more intense in a King Crimson sort of way, while other parts are more subdued and laid back. Either way, I’m really warming to it. Any rock band that deploys a clarinet is OK in my book.
Favorite track – “Gocxilla”
En avant doute, by Lazuli (2006): A band that has two percussionists, but no kit drummer; a stick/Warr guitar player, but no bass player; and a one armed guy playing a homemade instrument that lets him play screaming guitar lines almost has to be a progressive rock band, doesn’t it? The buzz about this band is well deserved. The music is intense, interesting, and full of interesting sonic textures. Plus, this version of the album came with a DVD with some live performances, so there’s added value!
Favorite track – “Cassiopee”
Grötesk, by Mörglbl (2007): Power trio French fusion, with a touch of silliness on the side. As advertised, this is fantastic stuff! These guys have chops aplenty, but also know how to craft and sculpt a song so it’s memorable and interesting. No aimless wankery here. They were to play at ProgDay next weekend, but unfortunately were turned away by customs when they arrived in the US. Really sucks for the ProgDay folks, as I’ve heard that Morglbl’s live show is even better than the album.
Favorite track – “Buffet Froid”
High Infidelity, by Present (2001): When I first heard of RIO – Rock in Opposition – and avant garde prog, this is the kind of stuff I had in mind. Jagged, dark, menacing, intricate, and highly structured. Repetitive in spots, with almost nothing that could conventionally be called a melody. That description alone would send most people screaming from the room, but if you like to step outside your comfort zone once in a while this is really great stuff.
Favorite track – “Souls for Sale”
Pollen, by Pollen (1976): Hailing from Quebec, Pollen were a two-disc wonder. Absorbing the influences of many of the big prog names of the early 1970s, then band produced an intricate, delicate style of symphonic prog, with a French accent. Given that, it’s not surprising that there isn’t really anything groundbreaking going on. Just good, solid tunes. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Favorite track – “Etoile”
Imparis, by Deus ex Machina (2008): Thinking about it, Deus ex Machina were to me in the 1990s what Beardfish is now – an exciting new band, whose albums I gobbled up only to run into a bit of burn out. There’s only so much hyperactive fusion-influenced Italian prog (with screaming Latin vocals, no less!) that one man can take. Years passed, before I learned about this album and, critically, the accompanying bonus DVD full of live performances. That was enough for me, but I’m pleasantly surprised by the studio material, too. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems a little more laid back and subdued than the older material. Not that it’s easy listening, or whatever. Maybe it’s best symbolized by “Cor Mio,” an unplugged reworking of a tune from their self-titled album that I first fell in love with. It still cooks, but it doesn’t boil over and make such a mess.
Favorite track – “La Diversita di Avere Un’Anima”
Being, by Wigwam (1974): I’m not sure just what I expected from this Finnish band, but fluid jazzy prog with a socio-political lyrical bent wasn’t it. No matter, it’s excellent. The keyboard player (and main songwriter), especially, shines all over this album. Just about as the first side winds up, it sounds like Frank Zappa shows up to arrange the winds on “Pedagogue,” which would have been at home on The Grand Wazoo or something (minus the hippie-inspired lyrics, of course). A real pleasant surprise.
Favorite track – “Pedagogue”
That's it! Overall, a very good crop, if I say so myself.