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(51:24, Cuneiform Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Briefing 4:24 2. Broken Lady 4:55 3. Honey Trap 2:20 4. Timekiller 3:55 5. Operative Vs Opposition 8:22 6. Everybody Stay Calm 6:05 7. Intelligence Meltdown 1:04 8. Debrief and Defect 11:03 9. Objective Compromised 6:43 10. The L Pill 2:29 LINEUP: Dave Miller – el. & ac. guitars; piano, keyboards Katie Wiegman – vibraphone, glockenspiel Toby Summerfield – el. guitars Tom Perona – bass Cory Healey – drums
Prolusion. ALGERNON is an American band (hailing from Chicago), led by guitarist, keyboardist and songwriter Dave Miller. “Ghost Surveillance”, its fourth album to date, is my first acquaintance with its work.
Analysis. That being said, “Ghost Surveillance” is a very mixed bag in general and in terms of style in particular. The CD consists of ten instrumental compositions, of which the first three, The Briefing, Broken Lady and Honey Trap, are creations of so-called Alternative music, at least overall, as any similarities with the progressive rock genre stop at early-2000s Rush, whose shadows are almost ever-present on the disc opener and quite a few of the yet-to-be-named tracks as well. (Okay, the second half of Broken Lady evokes an aura of Pink Floyd, but the music itself is plain.) On the other hand, the only outing that the Canadian legend released at the time, “Vapor Trails” (their worst album, in my view), has to do for the most part exactly with the above direction of contemporary rock music. That’s how things are. However, on the next two tracks, Timekiller and Operative Vs Opposition, and also on Objective Compromised, the band puts a fairly original slant on the style, bringing in elements of Art-Rock, Prog-Metal and Jazz as well as Space Fusion to create a rather innovative amalgamation. Besides Rush, I am reminded of a few excellent artists here: early Pink Floyd, late ‘70s Gong and even King Crimson circa “Vroom” – on the last of those. All in all, the latter two pieces (which range from 6:30 to 8:30 in length) are the album’s best tracks. A couple of moves that Everybody Stay Calm begins with, bring to mind Gong circa “Time is the Key”, after which, however, the theme was changed so abruptly that I was sure it was a new track beginning. Then followed a series of what was probably designed as psychedelic rock improvs, but weren't properly realized (albeit some of the jams have been repeated). The moral of the note is: Not everyone is able to avoid sounding pseudo-eclectic when playing impromptu, especially when doing spontaneous improvisations. The 11-minute Debrief and Defect also leaves a sense of being sketchy in construction. It begins and finishes as a solid, full-blown move with heavy guitar riffs at its fore, but its middle part reminds me of a swamp in a way, where everything moves either slowly, suggesting ambient E-music, or is stark like a jelly which, oddly enough, buzzes, though. Neither really complex nor melodious, both of these pieces are mediocrities at best, and the band’s returns to a previously played theme, along with their appeal to artificially prolonged ones, display their lack of ideas here, of course. Of the remaining two tracks, Intelligence Meltdown is rather strongly reminiscent of the intro to “Out & Intake” by Hawkwind, but it doesn’t feature a saxophone – an instrument, without which the reference point (by your permission) would have been way less impressive than it is. Finally, The L Pill is a piece in the ambient style and is certainly trivial from a progressive viewpoint.
Conclusion. Algernon’s “Ghost Surveillance” has already received a lot of enthusiastic – I’d even say rave – reviews, which is a complete enigma for me. Personally I find the album to be okay-ish at best, wondering why it was released by Cuneiform (a famous recording company, which has been the home label for avant-garde rock and jazz artists from all over the world for two decades), as the music doesn’t fully satisfy even the requirements of so-called modern Progressive.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: March 7, 2011
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