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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Stick Men

With Gary Husband - Owari

Review by Gary Hill

Stick Men consistently put out quality material. So, the fact that this album is a strong as it is should be no surprise. Here is something surprising, though. It was recorded live. It doesn't sound like it. In fact, this sounds like a studio creation. That's a remarkable point because it shows just how good the group are in live performance. As you might expect, a lot of this sounds like King Crimson in some ways. They even do some Crimson songs. That's not the whole picture, though. There are plenty of things that have different flavors. I really like this whole set, and the contrasts it represents, a lot. I am not completely sold on the bonus track, but you'll read that in the track by track review.

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Track by Track Review
Trippy electronics are on display as this starts. Some spoken sound samples come over the top as a dramatic, mysterious tone a bit like the soundtrack to some movie serve as the backdrop. The cut builds up gradually. The samples drop away as piano and tuned percussion sounds take control. There are hints of bass sound and other things that threaten to rise up and take control. It gets a little noisier and weirder as they carry forward, but doesn't rise up to true rocking zones.
Hide The Trees
The more rocking stuff comes in as this number starts. Tony Levin's contributions are unmistakable as the powerhouse driving prog rock takes control. This feels a lot like King Crimson, but that's really to be expected. This is a driving rocker that really builds out well with great riffs and melodies. There are spacey keyboard textures that show up at times, too.
I love the guitar textures and jamming on this cut. It's not a huge change from the previous one, but the piano brings some classy jazz elements to play at times. The driving Crimsonian elements really hold things together well. It gets really intense before it's over.
Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part II
Speaking of King Crimson, here we get a Stick Men version of a classic KC instrumental piece. They put in a great performance on this screaming hot number.
Screaming hot" is an apt description for this driving number, too. There are some cool spacey keyboard elements in the mix. The percussion is so cool. Then again, the whole piece just works so well. There are some rather spacey but rocking climbing explorations built into this thing. It drives and grooves and is one of the highlights of this set. I dig the shift later in the tune where it turns almost metallic, too.
Crack In The Sky
There are some vocals on this number that are sort of between spoken and sung. The cut has some definite jazzy elements. I love the piano, too. This is a mellower cut early, but not quite a ballad. As much as it stretches the box from the previous couple pieces, it's still decidedly Stick Men. The guitar gets pretty crazed and the tune gets intense before it's over.
Percussive sounds and sonic weirdness bring this piece into being. The number grows outward and gets really intense in some strange and creative ways. It's another powerhouse tune before it's over.
Prog Noir
Here we get another song with vocals. They are purely sung on this one. The tune has almost a fusion meets King Crimson kind of vibe to it. I love the driving bass type work on this. The piece is dramatic and has some great building and intensely driving moments.
Swimming In T
Dramatic guitar proggy jamming that's trademark Stick Men, this has a great almost dreamy, echoey texture to it as it gets underway. It's Crimson-like, but also rather psychedelic. That movement drops to something very mellow and trippy after a time. Sound bites and atmospheric musical textures work together to create a dreamy kind of soundscape.
Level 5
The disc proper is closed by another King Crimson cut. This is a killer track in any incarnation. The keyboard sounds bring something special to it when they are heard, but the main song structure remains largely unchanged from what you expect. That said, they really take this into some cool territory as they explore the sonic possibilities it presents. This powerful piece makes a great choice for closing the album proper.
Bonus Track: The End of the Tour
Ambient, trippy sounds make up the opening here. This builds and evolves slowly, remaining largely experimental and strange. It's the epic of the piece at over 16-minutes of music. Freeform, and freaky are the main concepts of this number. This doesn't really work that well for me. While it's interesting, I think the previous cut would have been a much stronger closing for the disc. Still, it is a bonus track.
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