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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

The Iridium Controversy

Review by Gary Hill

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic definitely have class. The group has always combined classical instrumentation with more rock and jazz oriented compositions into a musical style that is nearly impossible to pigeon hole. The Iridium Controversy is their latest release, and although not a huge departure from their previous work, it should please their fans and those of prog rock in general. This reviewer being a huge fan of artist Roger Dean's work was definitely pleased that they had him do the cover. The only complaint I would have with the disc, and this is more a genre issue than anything else, is that I feel that while instrumental music is quite intriguing, a whole album with no vocals can get a bit tedious at times. My suggestion, take it for what it's worth, maybe throw one or two cuts in at strategic points of the disc that have some vocals. Otherwise, this disc is very listenable and quite cool.

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
Primordial Sludge
This starts with dissonant jamming, but quickly resolves into a more melodic, but rhythmically syncopatic progression. As the piece continues new themes emerge, but all hearkening back to the original theme. This one features some great guitar and sax work. It makes for an excellent opening number.
The Iridium Controversy Before
Playful sounding tones start this rather tentatively. It begins to build for a short time in a free-form jazz mode, then drops off, only to return to the beginning. The composition starts back up building into a new more dramatic, rather dark melody eventually resolving into something that recalls early King Crimson just a bit. It drops back down to begin the rising process again. This time it takes on very classical stylings. Just a hint of screaming guitar alludes to harder rock styles before the cut drops back down to end.
The Iridium Controversy
A more rock based staccato pattern serves as the underlying background for a pretty piano driven melody. Eventually guitar soars over top until the band drops briefly into a dramatic break. The cut carries on combining these elements for a time, then wanders into a sparse free-form sounding segment. Eventually this works its way back to the earlier modes. The piece continues on alternating all these modes, at times becoming rather lush and quite dramatic. It ends by dropping back to the sedate.
Make the Camera Dance
Cacophony begins this one. It then explodes into an instrumental exploration that resembles both a Red-era King Crimson jam and the work of Allan Holdsworth. It is nearly accessible while still a bit dissonant - quite a feat. This cut is definitely one of the more Crimsonish on the disc. It certainly takes the opportunity to drop to the more melodic at times, though, and even gets downright lighthearted at points. One segment features one of the tastiest guitar sounds this reviewer has ever heard. There is even a texture that feels a bit country and a bit Hawaiian at times. It drops eventually to a sultry sax solo, then the band joins in and the controlled chaos returns taking it through to its conclusion.
This Way Out
Somber, melancholy tones begin this, then it shifts gear to a very cool jazz melody. This gradually builds up in an organic manner. The piano at times seems to remind me of the music on A Charlie Brown Christmas. A retro Vanilla Fudge sounding jam takes it after a time. This is without a doubt one of the most accessible and melodic cuts of the disc, combining killer mellow rock structures with a great jazz sensibility.
Lost in the B-Zone
The intro to this one almost feels like a more dramatic and powerful play on the previous but it ups the ante with a fest paced jam shortly. A crunchy guitar enters later, bringing a great, slightly hard rocking element to the piece. Then a chaotic fast paced jam ensues. This is a dramatic and quite strong number that rocks out very well.
Tectonic Melange
Dissonant piano begins this in unsettling and rather creepy tones. Eventually the number turns into a hard-edged dramatic jam with a killer groove and some smoking guitar work. It gives way to atmospheric tones. This one is an odd, but very cool piece that alternates between fiery fury and sedate weirdness.
Sherpas on Parade
This begins as a chaotic Crimsonish jam, then changes to the more melodic. It drops back and surges forth at various points for a considerably dynamic jam that doesn't stay in one place for long. This probably more closely resembles modern King Crimson than any other piece on the disc.
100 Years of Excellence
Starting in hard rocking energy, this one shows off some guitar work that reminds this listener of Steve Howe's stylings. It drops down to more mellow and melodic. The track continues on alternating between these two modes throughout. It is another that at time makes one think of KC.
Race Point
In stark contrast to the fury of the last piece, this one starts off in very sedate tones, feeling very restful with piano a, atmospherics and flute playing the main focus for quite some time. It eventually moves into dissonance, but only for a short time before returning to the mellow. It's a nice respite from the chaos of most of the rest of the disc.
Centrifuge
Percussion begins this, then a hard-edged rhythmic pattern ensues. Pretty and melodic elements emerge across the top from time to time. This is a very dramatic and satisfying piece.
The Beat of the Mesozoic - Part 1
Starting in a frantic mode loaded with kinetic energy, this feels ready to just burst forth. The jamming mysterious and hard edged. Eventually a techno sounding rhythm enters, the instruments playing noisy loops around each other overtop. The gets very powerful at times and manages to maintain a melodic structure amidst a wide variety of chaos. A militaristic rum pattern emerges later, taking center stage for a time. It seems to almost compete with the more robotic sounding backing rhythm, then eventually wins out. I am not a big fan of drum solos, but this one is definitely cool. This solos runs by itself for quite some time until the other rhythm joins it follow d by the rest of the instruments This cut is definitely the highlight of the disc.
 
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