Rick’s Quick Takes for April

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.

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for April”

In Concert: Three Ways, Progressing

Thank You Scientist with Bent Knee and Entransient at The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids Michigan, June 13, 2019.

“There’s only one way to rock!” — Sammy Hagar

Well, that’s one school of thought.  But after this downtown club triple-header, it struck me that (at least in theory) there can be as many paths to playing progressive music as the number of artists that give it a shot.  On Thursday night, three fine young bands unwittingly tested my hypothesis, approaching their music in three very different, equally valid ways.

Grand Rapids’ own Entransient, fresh from a showcase gig at Florida’s RosFest, kicked things off.  The quintet’s 3-song, 30-minute set of “melodic neo/post-prog rock” refined readily admitted influences (Anathema, Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Pineapple Thief) into their own unique blend, with a rich sound and atmosphere.  While guitarist Doug Murray and drummer Jeremy Hyde were standout players, the group as a whole (fronted by Scott Martin on subtly tasty keys and fierce vocals) was thrillingly tight and professional.  Prog metal bands are a dime a dozen these days, but Entransient has a distinctive, readily appealing touch. As they blaze a fresh trail in a genre that easily collapses into cliche, they’re well worth a listen.

By contrast, Bent Knee dove into their local debut determined to sound like nobody but themselves.  With Courtney Swain’s sweeping synth sounds and bracing, uninhibited singing to the fore, the Boston sextet blew through a clutch of mostly new material, including the recent single “Catch Light”.  Their sound is artful, cinematic and immersive — a unpredictable, unstoppable rollercoaster ride of dynamic, rhythmic and textural contrasts and transitions, underpinning allusive, cryptic lyrics.  You’re pulled in, put through the wringer — then ejected, safe and smiling!  It was a joyful, cathartic set, and the biggest crowd of the night readily caught the vibe; Swain made a lovely announcement about how she doesn’t like to compare audiences, but she loved this one.  Their closer “Lovemenot” launched guitarist Ben Levin and bassist Jessica Kion into full pogo mode, with Levin gleefully diving offstage to cap the evening.  An impressive, enjoyable experience — and a real revelation to me; I’d go see Bent Knee again in a heartbeat! (Photos below by Robert Henry)

 

To wind things up, Thank You Scientist pumped up the energy another level; the heady mix of Snarky Puppy-ish jazz/funk chops and Mars Volta-like whiplash transitions could have come from no other band.  Focusing on the brand new album Terraformer for their 90-minute set, the virtuoso New Jersey septet reeled off complicated riffs, head-spinning solos and breakneck unison lines with awesome precision, with Salvatore Marrano’s idiosyncratic falsetto vocals soaring over the adrenalized counterpoint.  To be honest, I found TYS’ non-stop barrage relentless to the point of exhaustion at times; good thing founder/guitarist Tom Monda whipped out his Chinese shamisen to change the pace on an instrumental rhythm section feature.  Great horn work from Sam Greenfield on sax and Joe Gullace on trumpet then set up a towering version of Terraformer’s title track, with violinist Ben Karas and Monda tearing it up as Marrano’s surreal narrative brought the delighted audience into the home stretch.

So yeah — there’s more than one way to rock — and to progress — and each of these committed, talented bands proved it!  Enjoy them when they hit your town.

 

— Rick Krueger

Setlists:

  • Entransient
    • Sirens
    • Weaker Hearts
    • The Weight of Things
  • Bent Knee
    • Way Too Long
    • Hold Me In
    • Land Animal
    • Catch Light
    • Garbage Shark
    • Golden Hour
    • It Happens
    • Leak Water
    • Lovemenot
  • Thank You Scientist
    • Wrinkle
    • FXMLDR
    • Swarm
    • Blood on the Radio
    • Son of a Serpent
    • [Shamisen/Rhythm Section Feature]
    • Poop Magician
    • Chromology
    • Anchor
    • Mr. Invisible
    • Terraformer
    • Encore: My Famed Disappearing Act