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(69 min, Mellow)
TRACK LIST: 1. St Petersburg 3:25 2. Petrograd 3:25 3. Leningrad 5:00 4. St Petersburg II 3:56 5. Some Things 4:56 6. In the Know 3:04 7. Valutnaya 10:03 8. Palach 4:05 9. Kira 9:55 10. Terror Is the Cure 1:39 11. The Interrogation 4:31 12. Desperation 6:56 13. Y-clad 3:51 14. Poem 3:32 All tracks: by Rongey, except 11: Pohl. Produced by Rongey. LINEUP: Kurt Rongey - vocals; keyboards; drum programming Bill Pohl - guitars
Prolusion. The name of Kurt RONGEY, the keyboardist and composer extraordinaire from Texas, should be known to anyone interested in progressive music (as well as that of his old friend and permanent collaborator, Bill Pohl). Apart from being one of the two masterminds behind The Underground Railroad, Kurt has two albums released under his own name: "Book in Hand" and "That Was Propaganda". I'll try to abstract from my knowledge of the maestro's general legacy while doing this review, as if it were my very first acquaintance with his creation.
Analysis. At times, true pieces of art come to life spontaneously, as if (rather, as) Heaven itself sends the essential information to the master, along with the strength for its immediate realization. It also happens that an artist matures his brainchild long and painfully. Only after the lapse of years, being changed over and over again, such appear in their completely polished form, to the joy of connoisseurs of beauty. Kurt started working on this monumental work in the distant past, 1991, and finished it only six years later. This is a concept album, dedicated to Soviet Russia or, to be precise, the well-known events of August of 1991. The literary sources of the author's inspiration include the works of such Great Russian poets and writers as Anna Akhmatova and Alexander Solzhenitsyn; additionally, quotations from Lenin and Lao Tzy. The album's overall musical style is symphonic Art-Rock on the basis of neoclassical music (i.e. 'academic avant-garde' born at the dawn of the 20th Century) with certain RIO-like tendencies, but without the use of ostinato structures. The very first passages of the opener, St Petersburg, reveal the huge mastery of Kurt as a composer, as the non-standard harmonic constructions immediately attract the attentive listener. The vocal style isn't new, but the matter is fully compensated by Kurt's timbre diapason, which is flexible and measurably broad. Furthermore, his voice is notable for maximally smoothed registers, so the periodic use of falsetto isn't annoying at all. The refined orchestral-like arrangements, which appear in the finale, fluidly come into the next track. Petrograd is more of a chamber thing, with acoustic piano being properly complemented by the sounds of cello. As the composition develops, the music becomes more anxious, and the sound more saturated. The rhythmic pattern is pleasantly unbalanced, abundant in asymmetric measures, which is typical for all the material. The instrumental piece, Leningrad, is probably the most avant-garde thing on the album. Built on the contrasts between timbres and rhythms, it sounds gloomy and oppressive. Then you arrive at the land that symphonic Art-Rock blossoms in, but the music is absolutely unique, with no analogs, striking for its scope, complexity and emotional saturation. The work of Bill Pohl deserves special praise. His mastery and a sense of proportion impart additional charm to the stuff, and Valutnaya is only one of the compositions, the sophistication of the arrangements on which is the merit of both of the musicians. Palach (The Butcher) is a symphonic intro to Kira, where the sadly melancholic vocal part unfolds to the fragile instrumental accompaniment, the complex harmonic construction and pronouncedly melodic lines well complementing each other. Closer to the end appear atonal opuses, such as The Interrogation and, partly, Y-clad, the second half of which represents a dramatic theme with vocals. The album closes with Poem, a Grand Piano instrumental with pauses between different musical phrases.
Conclusion. "That Was Propaganda" is one of the best albums released in 1998 and, hence, is an essential addition to my Top-20 of the year. Ultimately recommended to every profound music lover, particularly to those considering the most complex manifestations of symphonic Art-Rock and both classical and avant-garde forms of Academic music. Don't hesitate to purchase it from Mellow Records, as only several copies remain.
VM: October 7, 2005
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