Short, sharp shocks this month: all albums and EPs reviewed below come in under the old school LP limit of 45 minutes! Purchasing links are embedded in each artist/title listing; album playlists or samples follow each review.
Entransient, Ghosts in the Halls: My hometown’s very own prog-metal band lays out the cards for all to see on their Facebook page: “Melodic neo/post-prog rock from Michigan. Influenced by Anathema, Alcest, and Porcupine Tree.” The good news is that guitarists Matt Schrauben & Doug Murray, bassist Nick Hagen, drummer Jeremy Hyde and vocalist/keyboardist Scott Murray refine those influences into a distinctive blend, marked by rich atmosphere and a towering core sound. The opening epic “Parasite” grabs hold immediately with its games of acoustic/electric musical chairs; “Synergize” and “Last Strawman” drive forward without mercy, as Murray testifies fiercely over bare grooves and fuzzed chords alike. More reflective moments like the title track, “Misplaced” and “Where the Shadows Lie” dial down the tempos and the lyrical angst while keeping the edge intact as the band prowls lush, more aerated soundscapes. (Kudos for Hagen’s mixing and engineering, as well as for the mastering work of The Pineapple Thief’s Steve Kitch; the band’s dynamic and textural range is captured with crystalline clarity throughout.) Entransient has an open, readily appealing touch to their music; as they blaze a fresh trail in a style that easily collapses into cliché, they’re well worth a listen.
Envy of None: No, this sounds nothing like Rush, even with Alex Lifeson’s guitar work in the mix. (If that’s what you want, the new anniversary edition of Moving Pictures is now available — and getting glowing reviews from unlikely sources like Pitchfork, for pete’s sake.) Lifeson does provide satisfying crunch, acoustic contrast, and creative lead work in spades, bedding in seamlessly with fellow core players Andy Curran (bass & guitar) and Alfio Annibalini (guitar and keys). They weave a darkly enticing aural mesh that cradles the understated, seductive singing of Maiah Wynne; her breathily fragile volleys, playing off the sticky minimalist hooks embedded in EoN’s web, are what might really ensnare you. Musically, this is all about basic song forms deployed in ambient/industrial/goth/post-rock styles; the seasoned instrumental interplay and Wynne’s preternaturally mature vocal work are what elevate the album above the obvious genre markers. So it’s old-fashioned chemistry and star quality, from veterans and newcomer alike, that turn out to be key to Envy of None’s appeal. Try it on that basis and see if it grabs you.
The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Cold as Weiss: An immediately accessible reboot of a classic jazz trio format — organ (with bass lines played on the foot pedals), guitar & drums — with plenty of depth that compels repeated listening. Organist Delvon Lamarr & guitarist Jimmy James are thrilling virtuoso players who never fail to make their instruments sing, and Daniel Weiss (who gets a name check in the album title) lays down a sharp, wicked beat throughout. The first three tracks — the speedy opener “Pull Your Pants Up”, the sultry “Don’t Worry ‘Bout What I Do” and the Motown-era Michael Jackson cover “I Wanna Be Where You Are” — set the pace: super-funky, super-catchy bite-size tracks that nonetheless give Lamarr & James room to strut their stuff and display the trio’s razor sharp ensemble. Historically-inclined listeners can imagine Jimmy Smith playing Booker T. tunes, plus James Brown’s Jimmy Nolen alternating with Jimi Hendrix in the guitar slot. Oh, and the Meters’ Ziggy Modeliste on drums. But whether you know the references or are coming in cold, the DLO3’s latest effort (OK, their entire catalog) hits a sweet spot you may not know you had. It’s that soulful, that irresistible and that great.
Stick Men, Tentacles: Hard to believe it’s been six years since Markus Reuter, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto have released new music! (Live albums with high-power guest players, extensive King Crimson tours and a pandemic had a lot to do with that, I’m guessing.) At any rate, Stick Men waste no time on Tentacles; it’s a hard-charging half-hour of great material that fearlessly pushes against the extant boundaries of angular art-rock. Reuter and Levin play off each other at every opportunity, while Mastelotto pounds out one fractured beat after another and tosses the odd percussive sample into the heady mix. The knotty unpredictability of the title track, the cyclical counterpoints of “Ringtone”, the haunted metallic sludge of “Company of Ghosts”, the clattering rifferama “Danger in the Workplace” and the ominous spaciness of “Satieday” each thrill in their own unique way. This is committed, exhilarating stuff that will go down like gangbusters both on your sound system and on tour — which Stick Men have thankfully resumed.
And (in what seems to be becoming a tradition), the prog-related book of the month:
Steven Wilson, Limited Edition of One: Like the many, many lists included here (ranging from “10 Reasons I’m Not Macho, Cool or a ‘Rock Star'” to “100 Songs” that still leave him in awe), Wilson’s memoir captures his sturdily idiosyncratic viewpoint, his sense of the thin line between melancholy and absurdity, the sweeping range of art that moves him, and his relentless drive to create something worthy of that company. The lifelong musical journey he recaps — with an initial “aha” moment stemming from both Donna Summer and Pink Floyd, leading to the absorption of ABBA, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and everything in-between (from cheesy chart pop to teeth-grinding noise) along the way — makes perfect sense of his incessant stylistic zigzags, from the early days of No-Man and Porcupine Tree all the way to The Future Bites. Throughout, Wilson acknowledges both the attractions and temptations of a success lying just beyond his reach, as well as his determination to connect with the wider world, but on his own terms: “For me, it was never either/or” and “It’s not about getting it, it’s about letting it” perfectly summarize both his personal approach and what he asks of his listeners. Plus intriguing takes on breaking the fourth wall (on social media and even in print), the modified limited skinny on both P-Tree’s breakup and their Closure/Continuation reunion, and fleeting glimpses of SW’s next project, The Harmony Codex. As ever with Wilson, even if this isn’t your specific cup of tea, there’s plenty here that fascinates and even moves. (American release of the hardback edition has been delayed until late July; ebooks and audiobooks — the latter read by SW and co-author Mick Wall — are now available worldwide, and import hardbacks are available from Burning Shed and Blackwells.)
— Rick Krueger