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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Beardfish

Sleeping in Traffic: Part Two

Review by Julie Knispel

One year on from the release of their first album for InsideOut Music, Beardfish fulfills the promise made via the title of that release (Sleeping in Traffic Part One) with the second half of their lengthy concept piece.  Supposedly telling the tale of a day in one man’s life, from dawn to dusk (Part One), and then Dusk to the next day’s dawn (Part Two), the albums are an impressive introduction to this Swedish progressive rock band that is both unabashedly rooted in the sounds and textures of the 1970’s, and reaches beyond them to create a style that is solidly modern and contemporary.

Where many bands simply ape the styles of the first generation prog bands, Beardfish uses these as points from which to leap off into the unknown, following their muse wherever it leads them.  Their compositions are solidly impressive, shifting moods and styles as necessary for the song.  The band as a whole plays impressively as a combo; where many bands often seem little more than a foundation intended to showcase a single player, Beardfish exists as an almost organic entity complete in itself.  While Rikard Sjöblom is the leader and brain behind the group, his playing, writing and singing is but one part of the whole that is Beardfish. Robert Hansen’s bass playing, David Zackrisson’s organ and guitar work, and Magnus Östgren’s varied and tasteful drumming are all equally important in creating the Beardfish sound.  Their chemistry is as important as the songs they are playing.

Sleeping in Traffic Part Two is a worthy follow-up to their 2007 release, a worthy addition to the band’s slowly growing curriculum vitae, and most likely an easy and early addition to any prog fan’s 2008 top ten albums list.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
As the Sun Sets
Sleeping in Traffic Part Two opens with a brief musical interlude, setting the stage as the 2 album story shifts from dusk to night.  Reminiscent of some of the percussive/gamelan experiments the "double duo" King Crimson line-up released during the lead up to their 2003 album The Power to Believe, this short instrumental eases the listener back into the album after a nearly one year wait with a pleasant, almost ethnic feel.
Into The Night
The album proper begins with this jaunty composition evoking comparison to Gentle Giant, perhaps at their more accessible.  A pulsing bass note and organ lead into the first vocal section, with Rikard Sjöblom’s vocals pitched high, continuing the Gentle Giant comparisons.  There’s plenty of great organ playing and guitar work to be had on this track, a full blown pastiche of everything that made 70’s prog the unique auditory experience it was.
The Hunter
A great bass line (courtesy of Robert Hansen) is the focal point in the opening moments of this piece, with slightly chiming guitar notes ringing out overtop.  A lengthy instrumental opener would seem to offer plenty of opportunity for individual pyrotechnics, yet the band plays on with admirable restraint, hitting a groove and riding it for all it’s worth. Sjöblom’s vocals are more soulful here, while David Zackrisson’s organ playing is thick, meaty and incredibly pleasing to the ear, with his solo around the 4:30 mark meriting special note.
South of the Border
Beardfish is often noted as having a style that allows for comparison to Frank Zappa.  Nowhere is this more evident than on “South of the Border,” a song that could have easily been an outtake from an album such as Apostrophe or Overnite Sensation.  A strange and twisted tale of Garth, the typical gigolo picking up girls at the local dive, only to find out that his latest conquest is in fact a man (after the fact), I am constantly struck by how Zappaesque this piece is.  I’d even say that Sjöblom starts sounding a touch like Ray White (he of the incredibly bluesy, soulful vocals which sell “The Illinois Enema Bandit” as a serious song).  Twisted, almost (but not quite) descending to the depths of scatological potty humour which sadly seems to be what most remember Frank Zappa for, “South of the border” may seem out of place here, but as a possible dream within the story, it pretty much works.
Cashflow
“Cashflow” leads out of “South of the Border” almost seamlessly, with a bit of ambience and audio verite mixing with an almost carnival-esque rhythm and organ playing, creating a feel that is both playful and disturbing.  A much lengthier instrumental, Beardfish as a group really shines here, showing the tight interplay and restraint (while allowing for each player to have moments to shine) which many modern prog bands simply fall short on.
The Downward Spiral/Chimay
Chirping sounds, gliss/slide guitar, and a rolling, warm bass line lead into this composition. Sjöblom’s vocals are higher in pitch, almost fragile, with the band continuing to groove along in full-blown early 1970’s mode.  It’d seem typical to compliment a drummer for showing off on a heavier piece, but special note must be made of Magnus Östgren’s playing on this piece.. It’s far more difficult to handle things on a quieter piece yet still show off a signature style.  His playing is wonderfully light in touch, driving the track without bludgeoning everything in his path.  A jaunty acoustic section about 3:30 in on the track offers the band a chance to showcase some of the elements that made up a larger part of SIT Part One....hand percussion and harmonized acoustic guitars playfully offset each other, providing a nice contrast from the more electric sections around it.
Sleeping in Traffic
Beardfish saves the best for (almost) last on the album’s title track, a 30-plus minute epic that feels less like a single monolithic composition and more like a series of vignettes that flow seamlessly into each other.  Debuted in North America at their performance at Progday in 2006, the piece has evolved somewhat since then, yet several of the notable set pieces, including a departure to a biker bar where the Bee Gee’s “Staying Alive” is being played (complete with faux-disco vamp and falsetto vocals), this piece blows by so fast that the listener may be shocked to see the counter on their CD player reading 30:00. 

There’s more variety than one might think imaginable on this piece, the band shifting from full on symphonic mode to stripped back grooving and funking, often within moments of each other.  The vaguely country-esque vamp at 1:45 is one highlight, as is the almost Spanish sounding theme that comes in almost 2 minutes later (and which will be revisited near the end of the piece with full-blown synth horn backing, completing the Spanish/Mexican allusion).  Sjöblom’s singing is as varied as ever, and Magnus Östgren really has his work cut out for him as he is forced to power the band through an embarrassment of musical riches that’d make King Solomon blush.
Sunrise Again
Following on from the epic title track, “Sunrise Again” is another brief instrumental interlude easing the listener back toward the light of day.  The album (and 2-CD concept piece) ends with the cycle about to repeat with the rising of the sun.  This piece is, to my ears, a bit more Beardfish and not as heavily influenced as the opening instrumental “As the Sun Sets,” and makes for a gentle and appropriate album closer.
 
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