Rick’s Quick Takes: Birzer Bandana, Of Course It Must Be

Accessible, but not mainstream.  Simple, though hardly simplistic.  Unfolding methodically but organically, without feeling confined to strict verse/chorus/bridge templates.  Ambient, but by no means aural wallpaper.  And definitely prog — but prog that can’t be pinned down with an easy label.

These dichotomies come to mind listening to Of Course It Must Be, the second album by this pair of Progarchists (including Our Beloved Founder).   It’s a gentle, subtly delightful listen: without ever getting in your face, it builds, minute by minute, from a spacey drone that kicks off “Adrift” to pumping acoustic guitar riffs on “Calm,”  paralleling a lyrical journey from desperation to acceptance.

The nameless protagonist of Brad Birzer’s “lyrical prose” drifts into the picture disoriented, grasping for connection (“Adrift”), vaguely remembering a moment of crisis (“The Void”).  Though there are tantalizing hints, we’re not really sure what’s happened.  And you could argue that nothing further really “happens” as the album continues.  The hero’s vision gradually comes into focus (“A View”), observing the good and the bad of a world turning below  (“There” and “There Again”), accepting “the beautiful and hideous … messed up, glorious” (“Yes”).  Whatever fate awaits him, he’s convinced that “humanity will continue/A beautiful mess/Made complete by love.”  And as “Calm” winds down, the narrator’s meditations simply fade out … like a still, small voice.  Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Another cool thing: you could conceivably follow this storyline even if the lyrics weren’t sung.  Dave Bandana’s music is understated, yet cinematic throughout.  Using a restrained, gradually brightening palette of tone colors, he deftly unfolds Birzer’s scenario with a precise balance of riffs, grooves and tunes, while leaving plenty of space for the music to breathe.  His singing is always committed and solid, and his work on guitar, keys and drums is consistently tasty (with occasional, appreciated echoes of Rick Wright in the synth solos).  Guests Kenny Miller on acoustic guitar and Olga Kent on violin light up the tracks they play on with gracious, melodic work.   There’s a cumulatively powerful growth to the music as a whole; on the last three tracks, the busier, somewhat poppier soundscapes are somehow the perfect complement to the hero’s breakthrough.  Musically and lyrically there’s contentment and quiet joy, even while looking darkness in the face.

Of Course It Must Be — what??  Something like you’ve never heard before?  Probably not.  A genre-defining breakthrough?  Not really.  A well-crafted, classy, worthwhile album that deserves an hour out of your life to hear it, as well as some of your hard-earned cash?  Yep, that’s the ticket.

You can listen to (and buy) Of Course It Must Be at Birzer Bandana’s Bandcamp page, along with their 2017 album, Becoming One.

— Rick Krueger

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