It’s been a while since I put metaphorical pen to paper, but then by the same token it has been a long time since an album, any album, impressed me so much. And by impressed I mean totally and utterly captivated. From the 25 minute long opening epic ‘Nova America’ to the 2 and a half minutes of closing Bonus Track ‘Driver French’.
This is a supremely accomplished debut from the Spaniards and should be required listening for any ‘big name’ bands contemplating releasing yet more substandard product just to boost the retirement pot.
It is incredibly hard to pin down, if you like the comfort that sub-genre compartmentalisation provides. But if I had to give you a steer, sonically, then I’d point you in the direction of Frank Zappa, Gentle Giant, Genesis and Queen with a touch of Pure Reason Revolution heavy electronica. There is the odd bonkers moment (both musically and lyrically) and more melody than you can shake a stick at. If stick shaking is your thing. The musicianship is second to none and the breadth and depth of their compositional inventiveness is absolutely staggering to these hairy old ears. There was quite a bit of social network buzz around it and some excellent reviews which is why I took a punt and bought it on iTunes in the first instance then ordered the CD direct from the band’s BandCamp page.
It sounds great on just the car stereo, where it has resided for several weeks now. In fact I’m still finding new bits to enjoy. It’s on the domestic hifi, though, that it becomes a far more visceral and absorbing experience.
AKG K702 headphones and an Audioquest Dragonfly 1.2 USB DAC have transformed the MacBook into a pretty decent listening platform and this setup happily throws sound effects and vocal harmonies around your ears quite splendidly on the iTunes version of the album. The small ‘Gentle Giant on helium and acid’ (as I like to call it) section of ‘Nova America’ is an absorbing experience shall we say?
The problem for the album as a whole is the first tune is just so eclectic, and dare I say it ‘progressive’ that I invariably rewind (for you cassette tape enthusiasts) to the beginning and start again. Here you will find amazing keyboard passages, soaring guitar solos, upbeat rocking out, weird noodling and avant experimentation. Often happening at the same time and hence the need to listen on headphones I think. Soaring climaxes that The Flower Kings would be proud of and enough heart-wrenching introspection for even the most hardened PT fan And yes, you could quite easily justify the purchase price for this one track alone.
Now when I first heard ‘Nova America’ for the first time I said to myself ‘top that’ but you know what? The album as a whole is a triumph of pacing and they just about did it without the aid of a safety net.
Second track ‘The Driver and the Cat’ sounds like it should be on Hammer and Anvil by PRR whilst instrumental ‘Volcano Burger’ recalls your feel-good Swedish Prog but grounds it in the now with a disturbing captured sound.
‘Teddy Bears’ gives A.C.T and Moon Safari a run for their money. Sounded like The Sweet in places but like all of the album you need to listen to the lyrics. Which you will only get with the CD direct from the band. It’s only when you have the complete package that you realise just how much you miss from a mere (legal) download.
‘Four Guitars’ is another instrumental and as you might have guessed it rocks but keyboards fight their corner manfully.
‘Octopus Soup’ is probably the song every progressive rock band working today wish they had recorded. Yes, it is that good. The folky bit reminds of Ritual, before more amazing Gentle Giant vocal cacophony. It then gets avant, but there’s loads of other stuff going on and a lovely full-frontal Prog out before the track closes with some gentle piano.
A seamless segueway into ‘Fat Frosties’ follows as some lush piano and rampant guitar get together and go out for coffee. And ‘Naughty Boy’ will see you drumming furiously on your steering wheel. It’s an operatic Prog epic in 7 minutes. People in traffic jams will stare but that’s a good thing.
There’s a bonus track on the CD –
‘Driver French’ is vocoder-tastic and as good as anything PRR did back circa ‘Hammer and Anvil’.
So that’s it. My opinion on a record. An indispensable addition to any self-respecting Prog fan’s album collection. Some great album art too.
If Progarchy did ratings then this record would get a ten.