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Afroskull - 2009 - "To Obscurity and Beyond"

(60:57, 'Afroskull')

TRACK LIST:                   

1.  The Launch 0:20
2.  Spyplane 6:20
3.  Waste Management 6:19
4.  Me & My TV 5:55
5.  Dance of the Wild Koba 7:26
6.  The Curse 7:38
7.  Could This Be the End 0:41
8.  Redemption 5:57
9.  Everything 5:55
10. Zero Hour 6:22
11. Escape from Rome 8:04


Matt Iselin  keyboards 
Joe Scatassa  guitars 
Dan Asher  bass 
Jason Isaac  drums 
Seth Moutal  percussion 
Ronnie Cuber  baritone sax
Justin Flynn  tenor sax
Jeff Pierce  trumpet 
Rafi Malkiel  trombone 
Michael Taylor  vocals 

Prolusion. The US band AFROSKULL was formed sometime in the late 90s and is based out of New Orleans, if I manage to understand their biography section correctly. They recorded and released a critically acclaimed, but commercially not-so-sound, initial effort back in 2000, were an active live unit for the next few years and built themselves a cult following. When some of the vital band members moved to New York, Afroskull went into a brief hiatus, before said members decided to form Afroskull anew in their current location. In 2009 they hit the recording studio afresh, the end result released in November 2009 as "To Obscurity & Beyond".

Analysis. One of the more or less famous descriptions applied to progressive rock over the years is that it is music you can't dance to. And while it is true enough that the chances of encountering artists such as Gentle Giant or Magma played at a steamy night club is probably less than that of winning in the lottery, a fair few artists known for their progressive credentials have produced danceable materials over the years. Afroskull is a fairly good example of just that, a band seemingly intent on crafting music you can shake your booty to, with groovy a word I can imagine being used quite a lot to describe their musical exploits, and to top it off the material is rather sophisticated as well, although not in a vein that will please those who desire to encounter a higher level of disharmonies and extensive use of elaborate dissonances as effects. 70s funk and brass rock is the foundation for these exploits, with a fairly liberal use of slow riffs from the 70s hard rock school applied to add some slightly unusual textures to the arrangements. And the rhythm department could probably fit into just about any fusion group under the sun, enhancing the jazz flavors of the brass rock and funk this outfit seems to be rather enthused about. The drummer in particular serves up patterns of a tantalizing and energetic nature with perfect ease, be it in subdued sparsely-instrumented sections or in motifs of a more elaborate nature featuring guitar riffs and the organ and brass sections crafting bombastic cascades of sound. But as vital as the rhythm section is in providing and maintaining momentum, it's the brass section that creates the inherent tension throughout, in addition to putting fuel to the fire as far as pace and energy go. Call and answer routines between the trumpet, trombone and saxophones are frequent, as are energetic blasts that at times also set up a similar routine between the horns and guitar. The latter instrument gets to explore a vast number of different textures on this production, from careful subtle 70s down-tuned funk licks to the aforementioned dissonant, leaden guitar riffs, which, combined with the brass instruments, create stunningly dramatic theme interventions. The compositions themselves are probably best described as wandering affairs, freely moving between the various extremities the musical boundaries indicated earlier provide. Dampened, mellow funk themes with sorrowful sax soloing have their place just as much as energetic horn blasts with guitar riffs underscoring them and shivering organ textures on top, and often the band plays out an addition and subtraction development to their songs. Typically opening up in a bombastic manner and then carefully evolving towards calmer territories, and then slowly adding in each instrument prior to altering the individual textures and then getting back to the extensive arrangement found at the beginning (or vice versa). There's ample room for soloing from all instruments as well, even the bass and drums get their share in Zero Hour, one of the most elaborate and interesting creations on the disc where the rhythm section gets to rule alone in a passage I imagine will be used to set up longer and more extensive excursions from said instruments in a live setting. The only negative aspect of this CD is that the basic sound may get to be a bit too similar in the long run. Not to the extent of being bothersome or even an important aspect of this effort, but a dimension that makes me regard this effort as merely superior rather than perfect.

Conclusion. Those who love groovy sounds, sophisticated rhythms and elaborate horn arrangements should find this second chapter in the musical history of Afroskull to be a highly intriguing effort. Some might find their use of heavy guitar riffs to add darker textures to their excursions to be somewhat alien to such a musical venture. But those who do approve will most likely treat this production as a rare and treasured item in their collection, as Afroskull to my knowledge is just about the only band exploring this particular corner of the progressive rock universe.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: November 20, 2010
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