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TRACK LIST: 1. Birds Flying into Buildings 9:13 2. Terra Fire 3:34 3. Tunguska 6:34 4. Caution Congregates & Forms a Storm 10:52 5. Chronicle of the Invisible Rivers of Stone 9:21 6. The Agitation of the Mass 10:35 7. Chakra Khan 5:59 8. Battalion 9:57 9. Sunken City Sunny Day 3:17 LINEUP: Dan Britton – keyboards; el. & ac. guitars; vocals Brian Falkowski – saxophone, flute, clarinets Malcolm McDuffie – drums, percussion Brett D’Anon – bass, guitars With: Megan Wheatley – vocals (5)
Prolusion. “Bantam to Behemoth” is the first release by BIRDS & BUILDINGS, from the States. For me, however, it was enough to learn by whom the band was formed and who is behind the album as a songwriter to view this outfit not otherwise than as just another, third in number, project by Dan Britton (a multi-instrumentalist from Washington, DC), following Deluge Grander and Cerebus Effect.
Analysis. I fear I won’t be able to refrain from drawing parallels between this release and those by the aforementioned projects, “August in the Urals” and “Acts of Deception”, respectively, and while I’m not sure whether it would be correct to do so, I hope it’s at least both explainable and excusable. Clocking in at nearly 70 minutes, “Bantam to Behemoth” is a real feast of progressive rock music and is in all senses on a par with any of its hypothetical predecessors, covering already established terrain and discovering some new directions as well. The big change with this album is the appearance of brass and woodwind instruments which add a specific acoustic element to what was previously a somewhat more traditional, prog-rock quartet, sound. About half of the compositions here contain vocals, but of those only the Chronicle of the Invisible Rivers of Stone, which features a guest female vocalist, can be regarded as a true song – partly because the others are largely-and-even-more-so instrumental creations. (Respectfully and personally I would recommend Mr. Britton to abstain from singing on his future releases at all.) In the press kit Dan suggests to the listener to take the nine tracks presented as three three-part suites and the recording seems to suit well the offered scheme – right up to its finishing piece, Sunken City Sunny Day (a gentle, mellow, symphonic tune with no drums deployed), before which its evolution bears a sinusoidal character, with the slight lowering of its progressive activities as well as the textural density falling in its core part. As regards the complexity and intensity of the musical events, the highest point is the first track, Birds Flying into Buildings, though Chakra Khan and Battalion, which border with the disc’s imaginary south pole, are nearly on the same level, both being the opener’s closest brothers in style. Steering somewhere halfway between vintage Art-Rock at its most angular (e.g. classic Gentle Giant, early-‘70s Van Der Graaf Generator, mid-‘70s King Crimson), Jazz-Fusion (Soft Machine, National Health), and Zeuhl (think Moving Gelatine Plates or even Zao, but not Magma), each of the three is a highly adventurous listening affair: a kind of mental navigation over a stormy, anomalously heavy, sea full of turbulent undercurrents, maelstroms as well as vortices, with only a few calmer havens along the way. The next two parts of the first conditional suite, Terra Fire and Tunguska (a river in the North Russia – the area of the fall of the famous Tungus meteorite), have a lot of complex, dynamically evolving arrangements too, but those contain less singularities, such as avant-garde oddities or true improvisations, and more delicate moves. While still retaining for the most part a full-band sound, the first two of the three core pieces, Caution Congregates & Forms a Storm and Chronicle of the Invisible Rivers of Stone, are nonetheless comparatively laidback compositions, dominated by acoustically-driven arrangements with the guitar, piano, flute, clarinet and sax appearing at their surface much more frequently than any of the electric instruments involved. If you imagine a cross between the instrumental canvases of the tracks Steve Hackett has penned for Genesis’s “Wind & Wurthering” and the more reflective tunes from “Crafty Hands” by Happy The Man you will be halfway to getting an idea of these two pieces. The Agitation of the Mass begins and unfolds still unhurriedly, but in a different manner, with elegant, Flamenco-inspired acoustic guitar and flute leads sharing the spotlight in the arrangements, while the band’s turn to full-blown Art-Rock in the piece’s second half signifies the further increase of their performance intensity and power that, well, is already described, above.
Conclusion. Overall, “Bantam to Behemoth” is one of the year’s most at once intricate and cohesive recordings, which has always been a winning combination in my eyes (and to my ears). Have a look at my Top-20-2006 ‘hit parade’ for instance, and if you find that our tastes are quite similar, this disc will likely be one of the most frequent residents in your player.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: November 16, 2008
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