Friday, June 3, 2011

June 2011 Album Reviews


Sun Jun 05, 2011 3:07 pm

Island - Pictures 1977

What we have here is a young Prog band from Switzerland circa 1977, trying to keep their favorite music alive and vital entering the latter part of the 70s. This band no doubt wore their influence on their sleeves, but more than just a ripoff band it seems like the attempt was to throw many Prog elements into the pot in hopes for a new archetype for Prog. Perhaps the hope was for cerebral style of Prog that was darker, more dystopian, and uncertain about the fast moving technological future. They created a musical synthesis that few 2nd and 3rd generation Prog bands at that time could only dream of achieving. Well, as the counter-cultural tides rapidly changed and the onset of the immediacy in Punk and New Wave set in, we never got tons of bands out there all of a sudden playing like Island, and Island themselves seemed to have withered away into obscurity shortly afterward. Time and time again we've seen in all genres of music, bands that are this good from the start quickly burn hot and burn out fast, leaving behind a single gold statement to their name. So looking back at an album like "Picture" in 2011 we bare witness to an album that was pretty much fated to be a lost Prog gem of kvlt status...and thus will remain so ever after. But what a gem this is! This band has often been compared to Van Der Graaf Generator, and that's mostly due to the guitar-less, heavy sax approach. They take it even further being a 'completely' guitar-less band--also excluding the bass guitar, which they leave the bass-lines to the keyboards: just more original components to an already original band. Keys, sax, wicked drumming+percussion, and a very eccentric vocalist is the initial recipe here before its prepared, cooked and ready to taste. Aside from the VDGG influence, Island seem to be drawing blatantly from many other bands as well, hailing from Genesis, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Magma, even Henry Cow. This adds up to a very challenging listen which requires much attention. For one...the structures are unclear and move along in a labyrinthine fashion. First impression would seem like there are a lot of passages that have no connection whatsoever with preceding and/or succeeding segments. For me the songs are done in narrative style that unfolds in surprising directions at each turn of a page. Definitely not music for the neophyte who expects grounding in a constant beat and a foreseeable chorus. Not to say there isn't anything catchy throughout each composition because there is, but there are a lot of tempo changes here and just when you think you've anchored yourself onto a predictable beat and formula they take another turn into something ambient and atonal. The music can be incredibly dense and multifaceted, at times erecting heavy notes around a keyboard lead bass rhythm in a Zeuhl like fashion, at others bouncing complimentary melodies around the frame work in a hooky manner that will no doubt bring to mind, Gentle Giant and Genesis. In addition to the more complex and beat/rhythm driven segments, you get a contrast of gloomy and sprawling, slow-build, quiet and dissonant passages, causing you to lean in and grasp at every ominous sound given. The vocals from the start remind me of Peter Gabriel, especially during the more narrative moments. But while the singer bites off of Gabriel, he offers up his own twisted style of moaning, crooning, and strange A Capella bits scattered throughout, bringing to mind the vocal acrobatics of Klaus Blasquiz (Magma fame). There's also the use of strange whispers and even rhythmic breathy moments that adds more flavor the the already bizarre formula. The specially made album cover by HR Giger is totally appropriate and complimentary to the music. Keeping the artwork in mind while listening the the album bring visions of floating through the vast alien chambers of Giger's twisted-mind creations, especially during their more Avant-Garde atonal moments. To top it off, as haunting and cerebral as the music is, there are stabs at humor here and there, mostly in the odd lyrics and bizarre vocalizations: hearing lines about 'gastric juices' will cause the listener to have a few 'WTF?' moments! If there are any complaints I have with this album it's more of a personal one, and its that sometimes I might get a wee bit impatient for the more melody and rhythmic parts to kick in, so like I stated above it's an album the requires your undivided attention, and not really an album to throw on for an immediate injection of Prog Rocking fury while driving in your car. So like, Magma, Univerz Zero and the like, it's best listened to in bed with headphones on, enveloping yourself in the undiminished universe of the art at hand.



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