Albums of 2014: Numbers 1 and 2.

And finally…the Winners….   🙂

Number 2

Seven Impale:  City of the Sun

This was one of those albums that came out of the blue.  A recommendation from a friend, he also provided the warning: “give them a chance” – which can be regarded as either a challenge, or a red flag.   And the first time I played the album, I knew exactly what he meant: I spent a lot of the time thinking, “What the fuck is going on here??”   But I also got that feeling…the one where I have no idea if I liked what I heard, but there was something.   Albums that start out that way, that leave me bemused and intrigued, that demand revisiting in order to make sense of them, often end up being long-term winners.

Who are they? A six-piece from Bergen, Norway. What are they? Well, it is hard to describe what they do. Psychedelic jazz-rock-fusion, lots of saxophone winding all through prog-like songs, they sound deceptively loose and crazy, but don’t be fooled. What we have here is masterfully-controlled chaos.

While they do not really sound like any of those bands, they are reminiscent of Soft Machine, Quiet Sun, a bit of jazz-era Crimson. Each song is a surprise, the way the elements are all intertwined, sliding smoothly from raucus disorganized noise to nice melodic themes, changing up the time signatures but not in that self-referential way that modern prog bands tend to do—when it happens, it’s like it takes everyone by surprise, listener and performer both.

Every time I play this album, I am surprised how much I like what I hear, because otherwise every musical instinct tells me this is not the kind of thing that holds my attention. But these guys are the real deal. They don’t sound quite like anyone else, and sometimes they sound less like a band than a loose collective of people wandering in and out of the songs at random. If you do choose to listen…well, give them a chance.


Number 1

Salt of the Chief Cornerstone:  Intelligent Design

If the Seven Impale album was a big surprise, this one was like a bolt from heaven–which may be a more apt description than you realize. These guys, from down the road in Windsor, opened for Apocalyptica for two shows this past summer. They came onstage: one guy with a clear acrylic guitar, and one sitting behind a set of clear acrylic drums. So naturally everyone’s first thought was: “Oh great, a novelty act.” And we returned to our chatting, texting, or whatever one does —politely of course—to get through the opener.

Boy, were we wrong. The duo launched into their first piece, and by the third, we knew we were experiencing something very special. At the end of the show I made a beeline for the merch stand and bought their CD without hesitation.

Salt have been around since about 2007, with a demo album out in 2009. Intelligent Design is their first full-length album. They are a guitar and synths (Brandon Blanchette)/drum (Iven Kakoz) duo who pound out immensely heavy, intricate, remarkably sophisticated instrumental prog/post-metal, delivered with a superlative skill and intensity that leave many other acts—including famous ones—in the dust. It is hard to choose a favourite track from the album: each one is compelling with huge crunching, layered guitar sounds and effects, synthesizer, and absolutely madcap drumming; massively hooky, complexly arranged: if there is any drawback, it is that the album might be a song or two too long. It does tend to sag a bit in the last third. However, I think “The Process” or “Tree of Glass” are true standouts.

Intelligent Design hooked me from the first moment I fired it up, and burrowed in so deeply that I had to play it daily, or risk relentless earworms. This makes it remarkable in another way: almost inevitably, if I love an album instantly, it wears out its welcome relatively quickly and after an initial spate of frequent plays, it gets set aside. Not this one: it was only knocked off its daily-play pedestal when a long-awaited album came along, and it is beginning to make its way back up there.   I’ve been doing my best to flog this album around, and if you like it, go visit the band’s Facebook page and send them a message. They will sell you an album. Let me make this clear…I fucking *LOVE* this album beyond measure. Love it.

There is a caveat. The album is thematic: by now I’m sure you have spotted the meaning of the name of the band, but if not…pull out your Bible. And yes, the title refers to exactly what you think it does. These guys are witnessing, and if you weren’t sure at this point, the song titles (“Origins Matter”, “Ex Nihilo” for example) give it away. Not to mention the commentary found in some of the short bridges that connect each song together.   And you know, I don’t care. This is immense, glorious, wonderful music that hits me exactly in all my instrumental post-rock sweet spots; this album gives me pure, unadulterated joy. These guys are hugely talented and I really hope they stick around for a while. If God did it…well, that’s fine with me. God has some pretty damned good taste in music, then.