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(65:32, Distilleria Music Factory)
TRACK LIST: 1. Boromir 6:50 2. Aesthetic Surgery 10:00 3. MDMA 7:15 4. After the MDMA 5:00 5. Wordz And Badge 8:15 6. Demetrio And Magdalen 6:35 7. Enter the Modem Hero 8:00 8. Compression 16:30 LINEUP: Cristiano Roversi – keyboards Simone Baldini Tosi – vocals Maurizio Di Tollo – drums Mirko Tagliasacchi – bass David Cremoni – guitar With: Eddy Cavazza – guitar (5, 7, 8) Marco Tafelli – guitar (1, 2, 3) Massimo Menotti – guitar (4) Zef Noise – vocals; violin (8) Mike Ill – vocals (8) Rivka – vocals (8)
Prolusion. Formed in the mid-Nineties, MOONGARDEN are veterans of the Italian progressive rock scene, even though their releases have been rather infrequent. “A Vulgar Display of Prog”, issued on the Distilleria Music Factory label created at the beginning of 2009 by band founder Cristiano Roversi and Mangala Vallis’ Gigi Cavalli Cocchi (who has recently joined Moongarden’s lineup as drummer), is their sixth album – which also sees the return of original member David Cremoni on guitar, as well as a number of guest musicians.
Analysis. Very few people, when looking at the cover of Moongarden’s latest effort, will probably associate it with progressive rock. According to popular belief, prog is about fantasy artwork and lyrics, but definitely not about humour – let alone expletives. Here, instead, we have an album cover that proudly boasts childish pencil drawings instead of spaceships or mythical beasts, with a punning title and lyrics which do not shy away from dropping the ‘F-bomb (earning the disc an ‘explicit lyrics’ warning more often seen on punk and heavy metal albums) – all of this in contrast with a name that evokes beautiful, romantic images. With “A Vulgar Display of Prog”, Moongarden revel in running roughshod over the stereotypes attached to our favourite genre. Those who know the band as a very accomplished Symphonic/Neo prog outfit will be definitely taken aback by some of the aspects of this album, which – to paraphrase a notorious Star Trek quotation – boldly goes where very few bands of the same persuasion have gone before. Instead of the airy-fairy stuff that many have come to expect whenever prog is mentioned, the lyrics on this album are firmly rooted in modern society, dealing with hot-button subjects like cosmetic surgery, drugs, and the Internet. The most shocking element, however – at least in the eyes of the more conservative set – is the introduction of musical influences that are generally seen as polar opposites of prog (perhaps forgetting that the latter is by definition about genre-bending and -blending). True, there are episodes on “A Vulgar Display of Prog” (a bold statement of a title in itself, referencing one of the best-known albums by heavy metal band Pantera) that hark back to Moongarden’s classic prog roots, displaying in particular a pervasive Genesis influence. However, the trademark pastoral, airy textures of the seminal English band take a backseat to the almost strident presence of electronics, which strongly imprint over half of the tracks on the album. And there is even worse (or better, depending on points of view) to come – in the shape of a rap section bang in the middle of the long-awaited epic, Compression (whose starting point is a 1980 composition by Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford, released as the B-side of Rutherford’s debut single Working in Line). This provides further proof of the creative strain running through the current Italian prog scene – though Moongarden sound rather distanced from what is generally perceived as ‘Italian prog’, and not only because they sing in English (with more than adequate results). Album opener Boromir (loosely based on the Tolkien character) immediately sets the tone, juxtaposing electronic effects and turntable scratches more suggestive of techno/house music than prog with more conventional guitar riffs and keyboard excursions. Simone Baldini Tosi’s vocals, while not ‘beautiful’ in a conventional sense, tackle the song admirably, though the following numbers do him far more justice. The 10-minute Aesthetic Surgery offers more of this intriguing blend of classic and contemporary stylings, with Genesis-flavoured keyboard soundscapes and heavy riffing bordering on metal; much in the same vein, Wordz and Badge blends energetic, hard-edged riffs with majestic keyboard work. Lone instrumental After the MDMA, which (as the title implies) follows the catchy, almost poppy MDMA, strays instead into space-rock territory with its hypnotic pace and liberal use of electronics. While Demetrio and Magdalen spells vintage Genesis, with a distinctly Hackettian guitar solo backed by elegant keyboard washes, the aforementioned Compression is the kind of song that will not leave anyone cold, for better or for worse. A bold move from the band, and the undisputed centrepiece of the album, contaminating the ‘purity’ of vintage prog with rap and industrial-style electronics, it is likely to alienate hardcore proggers all the while wowing the more open-minded listeners. The first half of the track reproduces the original Rutherford/Phillips compositions rather faithfully, but then the beautiful Banks-like keyboards introduce a very different story: an electronics-driven section with a steady 4/4 beat, faint Middle Eastern undertones and rap vocals, where three Internet-based characters - interpreted by guests Mike Ill and Zef Noise (of US crossover band Sweet Lizard Illtet) and Rivka – enact an oddly compelling slice of musical theatre. The 16+-minutes of the track are then wrapped up by an intensely beautiful, orchestral coda, led by keyboards and guitar driving to an arresting crescendo. A cohesive effort as a whole, “A Vulgar Display of Prog” suffers nevertheless from the presence of some filler (almost inevitable when an album passes the 60-minute mark). However, its sheer interest value more than makes up for any shortcomings, and the inclusion of a cracker like Compression is a definite bonus – fuelling the listeners’ curiosity as to what Moongarden may come up with in their next release.
Conclusion. Boldly straddling the line between nostalgia and unabashed modernity, “A Vulgar Display of Prog” might leave prog purists shaking their collective heads on account of the ‘intrusion’ of unconventional influences, but may at the same time earn the approval of the more adventurous listeners. A fine offering from an experienced, well-honed outfit, though one that may need repeated listens in order to be fully appreciated.
RB=Raffaella Berry: July 28, 2010
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