One of the most challenging parts about being a prog reviewer is trying to ascertain how many times you need to listen to a particular album before you feel confident enough to deliver a balanced, fair appraisal of what it is all about.
I have never reviewed an album on the strength of one listen, no matter how discordant or lacking it may be. A lot of work goes into every release so I feel a sense of responsibility and respect for the artiste(s) in giving their work a thorough listening before committing my thoughts to type.
On the other hand, some of the most interesting albums are the ones where you feel no matter how many times you play them, there will be something more for you to discover the next time you give it a run-out. One example came in the post in the spring all the way from South America. It was the new album 4.45am by a Chilean band called Aisles and I am always up for hearing the work of a band I might not have encountered before in my prog travels and travails.
Aisles have been in existence for 11 years and this is their third album following The Yearning in 2005 and In Sudden Walks in 2009. The band line-up currently comprises brothers Sebastián Vergara (Vocals) and Germán Vergara (Guitars), Rodrigo Sepúlveda (guitars), Alejandro Melendez (Keyboards), Daniel Baird-Kerr (Bass) and Felipe Candia (Drums).
Now regarded as one of the best prog bands in South America, Aisles are deeply influenced by bands such as Marillion, Genesis, Pink Floyd and if you listen carefully to 4.45am, you might even hear echoes of Queen, a touch of 80s electronic pop and shades of Radiohead, another of their favourite bands. However there is no mistaking the strong Latin American vibe, especially from some beautiful acoustic guitar work and subtle rhythms, that run seamlessly through their music.
There is another paradox in that I was going to recommend this as essential summer listening because it is an ideal album to which to soak up a sunny afternoon with its sultry Latin American atmospherics (which it is).
However, the actual concept of the collection is very much on the dark side, the worst day of your life in fact. The songs centre on exploring and challenging what motivates people to get through the day, starting with the title track 4.45am, the time perceived as being on the cusp of night and day.
The clues as to who is the central character in the song can be found in the album’s stunning artwork by Omar Galindo with Gallarda Yarura a beautifully pitched instrumental which starts with a scolding mother, the piece focusing on her small but rather menacing-looking son.
There are some clever touches in the infectiously catchy Shallow and Daft about a popular radio DJ which questions his motives in return for the love his listeners send him. There’s personal fear and loathing in Back My Strength in which Germán Vergara turns up the vocal intensity to great effect.
Delicate acoustic guitar and ethereal vocals are the hallmarks of The Sacrifice, again another cry for help gazing out to sea, the lyrics show. No surprises then that the next track is the brief crashing waves of The Ship which blasts straight into the mesmeric instrumental Intermission, its insistent riff overlaid with artistic sonic effects.
At this point, Aisles take a slight fork in the road, with three slightly longer compositions, Constanza Maulen joining Sebastián on vocals for the heart-rending Sorrow, full of despair and lost hope over a gentle Latin rhythm.
Instrumental Hero shows how they have mastered the art of atmospherics, building gently, shifting through a few gears with the help some subtle synths and deft guitar work.
The ten minute long Melancholia brings the album to an end, again the piece being a closely woven but haunting piece with plaintive harmonies which is dedicated “To my mother.”
This is not an album I could have reviewed properly after just a few plays. It was worth going the extra mile for Aisles as it needed a lot of careful listening and understanding, but in the end, it passes muster as a real “dark horse” album. Give it a go below and see what you think.