One of the ways in which Immanuel Kant formulated his Categorical Imperative is this: Always treat other people as ends, never only as means. For Kant, this was THE moral imperative. Failing to follow it is failing to be a reasonable person in practical matters, which is the same as failing to be morally good. Another way to state the principle: Never treat other people as “merely instrumental.”
Yeah, I know it may be a little over the top, but I will go there.
If there’s a message that emerges from my little trilogy on “instrumental prog” (was Birzer being incurably trinitarian giving me THREE discs to reflect upon?), it is that one should never treat music as “merely instrumental.” The Aesthetic Imperative. Sure, if you want to add “especially prog,” I won’t complain. As long as you’re buying this round.
And I did save my favorite of the three for this final post; may favorite, at least, in terms of unremittingly delightful listening. That’s in no way to disparage the other two, as my prior missives should make clear. But here’s the bottom line: Ollocs rock, and they do it very very well! Their music engages the progressive sensibility, which always wants meaty repast requiring energetic mastication, with flavor that is at just the right balance between simplicity and complexity. With a two guitarist (electric and acoustic), bassist and drummer lineup, very sparingly supplemented by some lovely piano, they create rhythmic textures that one can fall into like a plush king-size bed in a luxury hotel. Life Thread (2013) flows like a river towards “Greater Seas.” Ouch! How cliché! But sprinklings of cliché can be made into something that flows far downstream from what we usually think of as the cliché.
Is it prog? Most definitely, and more. Is it metalish? Naturally, but much more. Is it reminiscent of Rush sometimes, Crimson other times… [add whoever you’d like to this litany]? Sure, but way WAY more. It shows my own biases that I often think of early to middle Wishbone Ash. But any such comparative thoughts are fleeting. They are soon brushed aside by the joy of musical creation that animates these tracks.
If the term ‘instrumental’ would lead you to expect something pedestrian, something “garden-variety,” something that is not too unpredictable, then in one sense Ollocs does meet that expectation. It’s not daringly experimental or brashly innovative, in any way that smacks the ears with an aural baseball bat. But here’s the third ass-kick. Don’t we all know what ecstasy there can be in a skilled and sophisticated foray into supposedly familiar territory? Sometimes the best music is that which can be heard at every moment as homage, but is nonetheless dancing on the shoulders of giants? Dancing, not “resting,” not simply “standing.” If I try to keep track of how many giants there are beneath the surface upon which Ollocs dance, I lose count quickly, and my head segues from critical, calculative appreciation into vigorous, “this-totally-rocks” oscillation.
If there is a “garden” within which Ollocs is “garden-variety,” it is a gloriously lush garden, and I hope you will spend some time there. You will be refreshed. And if what I’ve said here has any purchase on its elusive objects, perhaps it will deepen and widen the way in which you hear music that is “instrumental.”