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(63.25, ‘Half Past Four’)
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.