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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Beardfish

Sleeping in Traffic: Part One

Review by Gary Hill

The easy approach to describing this Swedish band would be to say that they are along the lines of The Flower Kings. The thing is, that would only be partly true. Sure, the two groups hail from the same country and they do have similar influences and share some musical territory. Beardfish, though, in many ways is more diverse musically than the Kings. You will hear heavy doses of Frank Zappa in their sound along with Gentle Giant, Pentwater and others. They also bring in pure blues from time to time and just plain good classic rock. This is an album that should appeal to prog purists, while at the same time stretching the envelope of what progressive rock is in the modern age.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
...On the Verge of Sanity
This brief introduction has a gypsy / French cafè sound, right up to the end where a more rock oriented texture enters to segue into the next cut. 
Sunrise
This pounds out with a prog intensity that calls to mind many of the greats (Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, ELP) all at once. It drops back to a dramatic balladic sound that reminds me a lot of early King Crimson. This is punctuated by a reprise of the harder music before settling back in for the first vocals of the disc. They build this up feeling more like one of the ballads from Emerson Lake and Palmer, then move it out into a more melodic jam that is essentially a more intense take on the main theme. After a time they shift out into another excursion that serves as the backdrop for the next vocals. This is a slightly off-kilter movement that reminds me a bit of Pentwater. Eventually, though, they turn this same melody into a crunchy, rather metallic sort of version of itself. Then we move down a different road for a short turn before coming back to the ballad segment, with more energy and power. Another harder rocking segment, with spoken distorted vocals over the top lead to a killer hard edged jam and we're off and running once more. There is a cool instrumental segment later that has a bit of a jazzy texture. Backwards tracking and ambient textures eventually end this after an angry crescendo. This track is very dynamic and potent with pretty much everything fitting well into the standard prog vein (prog purists, this is your type of music).
Afternoon Conversation
Jazzy acoustic guitar tones lead things off here. As the vocals join I'm again reminded a bit of early King Crimson and vintage Genesis. While the musicianship is intense here, they never move beyond this main song structure. Instead they vary it by increasing the power and passion and reworking its musical themes. It's pretty and intriguing.
And Never Know
In a total contrast the the peace of the last cut, frantic hard edged prog jamming leads this off in fine fashion. I hear Steve Howe in this mix along with Pentwater. They turn this a bit crunchy in a spacey, Hawkwind like groove for a time. It drops back from there into something that calls to mind a cross between Yes and Rush. The cut moves through a number of changes and alterations based around these general themes. There are some cool catchy vocal segments at a couple points. I really like the angular nature of a lot of the guitar lines on this composition. Sound effects eventually end it.
Toulette
A cool bouncing texture leads this one off and serves as the backdrop for a good part of the song. Over this the group work through a number of differing musical themes touching on the sounds Emerson Lake and Palmer, Rick Wakeman, Genesis and others – and all of this in the minute plus introduction. They drop it back to sedate keys that serve as the backdrop for the first vocals. They gradually bring this up with a great classic rock sound. After a time they hint at a new dramatic melody that seems ready to burst forward. This rises ever so gradually, but rather than power out in full gives way to more of the ballad approach (with a somewhat more intense arrangement on it). About three and a half minutes in they power it out into an arena rock prog type of motif. This doesn't stay long, though, as they turn it around another corner, first with a short instrumental segment and then a new quirky mode that backs up the next vocals. This works through a couple variations and some oddly timed segments. Then they power out again with something that seems a bit like Frank Zappa in it's slightly left of center approach. Then a new jam that combines the Beatles with Kansas and ELP take it through another short instrumental segment. They alter this into the new hard rocking verse segment as they move forward. The cut stays reasonably consistent from there until around the nine minute mark when they twist around into a jazzy movement. This eventually gives way to more traditional prog from there. I like the spoken word segment later. The lyrical theme here is bleak, but also perceptive. They throw in some world music to the mix for another instrumental passage, this one rather extended. This shifts out into a prog rock meets klesmer approach for a swirling segment. When they shift into the bass driven closing section those world sounds still hang around as melody over the top. At over twelve minutes this is the longest cut on show here.
Dark Poet
A pretty, Beatles-like ballad mode leads this off. The vocals come in over the top of this. At only three and a half minutes in length there aren't a lot of surprises here. Instead the group weave alterations and revitalizations into the composition to provide variety. It serves as a good respite from the diverse chaos that came before it.
Harmony
They power this out with a Pentwater meets ELP approach. Lots of great instrumental pyrotechnics and some intriguing time signatures play against and around one another for the first minute as the introduction here. They drop it back to a bluesy sort of jam that creates the balladic modes for the vocals. When they power this out at the end of the verse it is in a mode that is the most successful blending of progressive rock with pure blues rock that I've ever heard. They alternate this with the balladic sounds that preceded it and then move into a great retro organ solo. I hear traces of “The Thrill is Gone” on this segment. At around the three and a half minute mark this whole thing is reworked into a related movement that has a new focus on impetus and ELP-like sounds. I also hear Pentwater and perhaps a bit of Zappa on this powerful arrangement. There is even a disco bass line worked in from time to time. It gives way to the verse segment after a time to carry the song onward. We get more of that harder edged blues meets prog sound as they keep it up, once again alternating the textures. The vocals here – and the whole arrangement – become extremely powerful.
The Ungodly Slob
Weird percussion leads this off. Then a playful ballad approach with a bid not towards classic rock takes it before noisy sounds turn this into almost a jam band motif. A number of changes, including a screaming King Crimson meets Genesis jam take the track after a while. This includes a great keyboard solo and a driving bass line. The ELP stylings show up here, too, along with some definite nods to fusion. I hear a bit of country when it returns to the earlier segment. They keep working new sounds and segments into the mix in a seemingly never ending series of changes. If you don't like where this song is at you don't have to wait long. The changes at times are almost too fast to keep track of. At about the 3 minute and 20 second mark they settle into a cool funky excursion for a while. This still gets punctuated by some of the earlier modes. They turn it a bit metallic after the four minute mark. This instrumental is powerful and incredibly dynamic and turns to an exceptionally pretty and sedate jazzy motif later. That segment is one of the most consistent ones of the track and finally ends it.
Year of the Knife
A smoking prog groove leads this off. They launch into some more fusion oriented sounds – again with a bit of a nod to Frank Zappa from there. As the intro winds down, though, the cut takes on a hard rocking mode that is more classic rock than prog. The thing is, they still turn out into progressive rock journeys at the end of each verse to keep the piece from moving to away from the band's proggy roots. A killer expansive jam takes it at around the two and a half minute mark, but then gives way to a moody keyboard dominated section for the next vocals. They power out from there with a rather bluesy approach. This is counter-pointed with more prog stylings (both over top and as punctuations). They move back out into the earlier verse motif as they carry forward. Eventually it moves out into Zappa-like free form jazz and then shifts around into almost RIO territory that combines with those FZ leanings. This section fades down and leaves a symphonic treatment (and I mean all classical instrumentation) to take it to the percussion driven space segment that ends it.
Without You
A pretty ballad approach (guitar based) serves as a good change from “Year of the Knife.” This short track doesn't wander far, but is quite nice.
Same Old Song (Sunset)
A jazzy, keyboard dominated section starts off the festivities here. They move this into more of a jazz ballad texture for the first lyrics. As that verse ends they transition into Genesis-like prog for a powered up version of the musical themes. They drop it back to the ballad structure for the verse and alternate between these modes for a lot of the first half of the song. Still, they manage to work some great jazz-tinged instrumental segments in here and there. This twists around late into some pounding King Crimson like music that is amongst the most potent passages of the whole album. Moving it through several changes and revisions this mode (that reminds me a lot of the Red-era) finally fades down to end the piece (and the disc). It makes for a very satisfying conclusion to a thrill ride CD.
 
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