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Half Past Four - 2009 - "Rabbit in the Vestibule"

(63.25, ‘Half Past Four’)


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Prolusion. “Rabbit in the Vestibule” is the debut album of HALF PAST FOUR, a quartet based in Toronto, Canada. The band’s current lineup has been together since 2005; their first demo was released in 2006. The following year they wrote and recorded the score for the horror-comedy movie “The Mad” (starring “Titanic” actor Billy Zane). The band’s lead vocalist, Kyree Vibrant, is also known as an independent filmmaker, and has been actively writing music since the age of 7.

TRACK LIST:
           
1.  Missing Seventh 2:31
2.  Johnny 2:48 
3.  Poisoned Tune 7:53
4.  Southern Boogie 4:15
5.  Twelve Little Words 5:18
6.  Underwater 4:58
7.  Lullaby 4:16
8.  Strangest Dream 6:20
9.  Biel 8:14
10. The Ballad of Dwayne's Plane 4:53
11. Salome 2:45
12. Bamboo 2:38
13. Rabbit 6:02

LINEUP:

Kyree Vibrant – lead vocals
Dmitry Lesov – bass, ac. guitar; vocals
Constantin Necrasov – guitars, mandolin, bass; vocals
Igor Kurtzman – keyboards 
With:
Art Pisanski – drums, percussion
&:
Ashot Grigorian – saxophone (4, 11)
Sahra Featherstone – whistle (3); violin (11)
‘The Burlington Seniors Choir’ – vocal chorus (9)

Analysis. “Rabbit in the Vestibule” is definitely not your average ‘prog’ album, with 20-minute, multi-part epics, lashings of keyboards, and more time signature changes than you can count. There are many bands on the current scene who can do that sort of thing very well, and do not mind the somewhat condescending epithet of ‘retro-proggers’ (or the more derogatory one of ‘regressive rock’). Half Past Four, however, are a different breed – a thoroughly modern band who, while acknowledging their debt to the music of the past (as they clearly state on their website), are not afraid to experiment with a new take on progressive rock - one that does not involve the usual ingredients of the genre. As is the case of other albums I have recently heard, the first approach to “Rabbit in the Vestibule” may be deceptive, and get the listener to think, ‘how can this be called prog?’ The initial impression may indeed be one of an album of quirky, intriguing pop songs, but certainly very little that would suggest progressive rock, at least in any conventional sense. It is only as the album progresses, and then on further listens, that its true nature begins to unfold. Like another outstanding ‘crossover’ band, 3rd Degree, Half-Past Four also engage in ‘defiling perfectly good songs with prog’, and this apparently sacrilegious act results in one of the most interesting records I have heard in a long time. A number of the songs on “Rabbit in the Vestibule” would indeed qualify as ‘glorified’ pop songs, so to speak, with a traditional chorus-verse-chorus structure, and plenty of catchy hooks. Most of the tracks are between 2 and 5 minutes in length, and even the longest of them, Biel (clocking in at slightly over 8 minutes), sounds nowhere like your standard, convoluted epic. However, even the shortest items possess that indefinable ‘something’ that lifts them above your average pop song – a track barely over 2 minutes such as opener Missing Seventh has a jagged rhythm and frequent tempo changes, underpinned by a nice organ tapestry. Moreover, the individual members of the band, as well as their guests, all display an impressive level of musicianship and songwriting skills – something that definitely bodes well for the band’s future. Half-Past Four’s ‘secret weapon’, however, are Kyree Vibrant’s distinctive, riveting vocals. Miles away from the almost mass-produced female singers (with more or less ethereal vocals) that seem to front every other modern prog band – often focussing the attention on their physical charms as much as on their vocal qualities – her delivery, witty and commanding at the same time, suits the band’s quirkily attractive music perfectly, and adds interest value. With a reasonably long career as a singer, songwriter and filmmaker, and a musical background spanning various genres, she is an eclectic, versatile vocalist, whom I have no trouble imagining as a captivating frontwoman. Her voice, while obviously feminine, can tackle dramatic, intense stuff such as Biel (possibly Kyree’s finest moment on the album), or lounge-jazzy, Steely Dan-inspired pieces like Strangest Dream equally well. It is a voice that, at first, does not come across as conventionally ‘beautiful’, but whose charm and strength unfold with each listen. As already hinted in the previous paragraph, the thirteen tracks that comprise “Rabbit in the Vestibule” make for a variegated, often exhilarating listening experience. The slick interplay between the instruments, the diversity of the influences, the intriguing vocals keep the listener on their toes. True, those expecting by-the-book prog will be sorely disappointed – the ‘classic’ progressive elements are sprinkled judiciously throughout the album, and often come as a surprise – the spacey keyboard sounds in Lullaby, the Middle Eastern vibe in Salome, the jagged drumming and bass line in Bamboo, the guitar-organ interaction in several songs. As stated earlier, the album needs repeated listens for all those elements to be discovered and fully appreciated. In spite of its apparently ‘poppy’ nature, it is a multilayered effort and one that is much less immediate than meets the eye (or, in this case, the ear).

Conclusion. Those who think progressive rock is defined by lengthy epics, grandiose, symphonic atmospheres and soaring vocals – not to mention all kinds of displays of technical brilliance – should look elsewhere, because “Rabbit in the Vestibule” will probably sound to them as little more than a sophisticated, intelligent pop album. On the other hand, those who keep an open mind, and are always looking for new, creative twists on their favourite genre, are sure to appreciate this disc, and possibly be left wanting for more from a very promising new band. Definitely one of the most interesting releases of 2008.

RB=Raffaella Berry: January 6, 2010
The Rating Room


Half Past Four - 2009 - "Rabbit in the Vestibule"

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Analysis. Rock is a type of music that has been extensively explored for more than 50 years now, with a great variety of musical expressions unfolding as the years have gone by, and musicians constantly have tried to push the musical and stylistic boundaries accepted by the public at large. Great innovators have come and gone, and while HALF PAST FOUR isn't among those the band should be given credit for taking an innovative approach to the art of music production. It is obvious that the band's members want to break away from previously explored musical territories, and in time they might just manage to do just that. In the meantime, those who appreciate a slice of creative and rather challenging musical escapades should receive a lot of pleasure from this initial effort of theirs. Quirky, offbeat art rock is the name of the game here and while the band cites artists like King Crimson, Frank Zappa and early Genesis as its main influences, their musical undertakings more often remind me of Gentle Giant. Multilayered compositions, with one or more distinct melodic themes, spiced with dampened, sophisticated dissonances and disharmonies is a good general characterization of the album, and while art rock is the stylistic foundation of choice, elements from quite a few other musical directions are liberally woven throughout: jazz first and foremost, but traces and elements of ska, punk and ragtime appear here and there as well. There are even a few numbers with nods in the direction of tango and flamenco here, and also some Middle-Eastern flavored moments can be found. Offbeat humor, very much in the spirit of Frank Zappa, makes frequent appearances, and to top it all off there are the lead vocals of Kyree Vibrant, whose delivery certainly lives up to her surname. As far as comparisons go I'd name Toyah Wilcox as a singer with a similar voice. Vibrant's delivery is more controlled, though, and with something more of a jazz tinge to it. Personally I think Half Past Four covers a bit too much ground on this initial production however. It seems the outfit has an awful lot of creativity they need to get out, to the point where channeling it has become difficult. There's no denying the talent here though, and I'm convinced that many will feel right at home with an unrestrained, artistic effort such as this one.

Conclusion. Quirky art rock taking its cues from the likes of Frank Zappa and Gentle Giant and blending it with a tad more mainstream-oriented strong melodic themes is what is offered up on this debut production by Canadians Half Past Four. Innovative in approach, sophisticated and challenging numbers fill up this disc from start to finish. As far as recommendations go, I'd think those fond of offbeat art rock with strong melodies and the subtle use of musical effects would be the perfect audience for this band and this disc.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: January 6, 2010
The Rating Room


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