The Rebel Wheel, Simple Machines, November 11, 2020
Tracks: Pulley (4:06), Hammer (5:21), Inclined Plane (4:48), Screw (5:40), Fulcrum (4:36), Switch (5:19), Wheelsuitewheel (11:37)
I’ve been sitting on the promo CD for Ottawa, Ontario band The Rebel Wheel’s latest album, Simple Machines, for a while, although I’ve been listening to it a fair amount. The album has been a pleasant surprise for me. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve listened to it. The Canadian three-piece is comprised of Andrew Burns (bass, keyboards, vocals, producer), David Campbell (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Alex Wickham (drums, keyboards, vocals).
While The Rebel Wheel have several albums and several decades under their belt, Simple Machines finds them making a few changes, with every band member contributing to the writing and a different band member producing it compared to past records. Their overall sound is hard to pin down, as it is rather varied. I think Primus must be a major influence for Andrew Burns, who produced the record. Skimming through their discography on Bandcamp, I definitely recognize some similar musical ideas, but a Primus influence sounds much more prominent on Simple Machines. I hear this in some of the vocals, particularly on “Inclined Plane” and “Wheelsuitewheel,” as well as in the funk-influenced brand of metal on the album. That influence is present in the music and vocals, but not in the lyrics, which are rather simple in their construction, yet still deep with meaning. Not surprisingly I also hear a Discipline-era King Crimson influence in the guitars and bass.
With those two prominent influences there is still plenty of room for innovation. Some of the music almost approaches metal, if we’re going to call what Primus does a kind of metal. But it’s probably more accurate to call The Rebel Wheel progressive rock with heavy a jazz influence. The drums are distinctly jazzy. The bass drives the songs with guitars adding the flourishes and the keyboards filling the soundscape. There are experimental moments too, such as on the eleven and a half minute-long final track.
Even though I’ve made the connections to both Primus and King Crimson, the resulting record sounds quite unique and fresh. A King Crimson influence might be common enough in the prog world (I mean, who hasn’t been influenced by them to at least some degree), but Primus not so much. With the more progressive synth sounds, the record takes on its own life. The vocal harmonies add a nice touch. There’s even some blisteringly heavy guitar at points that remind me of Rush, but I’ll leave that to you to find those moments in the album.
I highly recommend The Rebel Wheel and their latest album. It’s a welcome departure from the Neo-prog territory common amongst most straightforward “prog” bands today. It’s got a crunch and a pleasant quirkiness that doesn’t blend into a symphonic backdrop. It grabs your attention. You won’t find too many other bands making music that sounds quite like this.