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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

Pyroclastics

Review by Gary Hill

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic is an unusual band. While they practice an adventurous form of progressive instrumental rock - at times closer to jazz or classical - they still manage to come across as playful and catchy. It is a true testament to their compositional skill that they can create works that are rather weird while still feeling fairly accessible. Like Frank Zappa before them, they also manage to combine an incredibly high level of musical expertise and instrumental precision with a sense of humor. These elements all make Birdsongs a force to be reckoned with. Among the highlights on this particular disc is their take on the theme song from the Simpsons television show.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Shortwave Longride
Weird sounds start this, then a rather native american based pecussive section takes the piece. Melodic lines play over top, then the group turns it into a fairly raw jam for a short time. This really feels a lot like something King Crimson might do, but more in the composition than the instrumentation. It's funky and weird at the same time, feeling very catch at points.
Pleasure Island
Starting in sedate tones, dissonance begins to play overtop. Again the comparisons to KC run rampant here. After hints at a melody to grab onto and run for a time, we are given a bit of an off-kilter groove, but the band keep it moving into the strange realm. It's just off from being a real toe-tapper here, just slightly left of center. The chaos only stays under control temporarily, though, the dissonance eventually taking over again. This is strange, but oh, so cool. After a time it resolves into a short smooth jazz texture before winding back into dramatic eclecticism. Then it beings to feel like a drug induced jazz haze for a time.
I'm A Pterodactyl
Fast paced drumming with a slight Old World texture pervades the intro here. This one gets quite heavy and dark, remaining quite chaotic. The band manages to keep changing it up, maintaining the same structure with new "melody" lines and rhythmic patterns. It is not an exceptionally long, but great track.
Why Not Circulate
Less frantic, playful jazz structures take over here. The band then combine this theme with some brief metallic accents before moving into a slightly Eastern tinged jam based on the same themes. This one really grooves, while still maintaining the band's odd sound. The manage to weave some definite chaos in It is a very dynamic cut, while still staying fairly true to its central theme. It ends with noisy guitar textures.
Sled
This starts off creepy, feeling much like the theme to the film Halloween. The band shortly reshape this intro a free form jazzy instrumental foray with piano and percussion playing the leading roles much of the time. It has lots of odd movements away from the main theme, but these are all short-lived. The Halloween modes return later before giving away again to the faster jam. It eventually resolves into a more melodic theme for a time.
The Simpsons
This is a weird reworking of the theme song to the Simpsons. Quite a cool homage, this is off-kilter, just as it should be.
Tyronglaea II:
This is noisy and cacophonic. It's a bit hard to get a grip on at times, but interesting and rather playful. It gets very dramatic in places, but the noisy nature remains throughout. This drops to a barely accompanied percussion solo later. Amazingly it manages to be almost catchy at times.
Papercutstone
They get points here just for the title - how cool! Percussion starts this one, and an ensuing percussive duel holds the number for a time before other instruments join. Even when they do, the drums remain the key element to the piece. This is less chaotic than a lot of the material here. Eventually it shifts gear completely to a pretty piano melody that runs through for a time. This eventually moves back towards the earlier segments, while holding on to the newer melodies.
Sombre Reptiles
The most straightforward and mainstream rocker on show, this one has a bluesy texture, but still manages to work in no classical modes, mostly with the piano. It is quite accessible and entertaining.
Nothing But Trouble
A rather upbeat techno rhythm starts this, but the other instruments come in with a wild jazzy chaotic abandon. The group turns the corner after a time to a less frantic mode, but the odd jamming continues. They keep playing with the tempos and melody lines, but cacophony remains the rule on this piece.
Tomorrow Never Came
More rhythmically based strangeness begins this, but it is less chaotic than the previous piece, combining an intriguing texture and sounds to create a dramatic sonic picture. As the pace picks up, the track becomes gradually more melodic. This is one of the catchier numbers on the disc and has some great melody lines, and cool use of backwards tracking to create the percussion at points.
Our Prayer
A sedate and rather somber melody line starts this. The cut moves slowly, building in organic lines. It is pretty and quite neo-classical in texture. This one doesn't wander very far.
 
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