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TRACK LIST: 1. Columns 6:13 2. Flag of Dimbu 8:16 3. Cosmic Irony 4:34 4. Harps of Space 5:45 5. For Vlad 6:48 6. Distrust 5:17 7. St. John's Wood 6:47 8. Metaphysical Fitness 4:52 9. Afterlife 6:04 10. Crimson Fields of Glory 7:15 SOLO PILOT: Gregg Johns – vocals; guitars, bass; keyboards, MIDI programming With: James Walker – bass; vocals (1, 3, 7, 8) Jeremy Mitchell – drums (3, 4, 6, 7, 8) Chip Griffith – saxophone (8) Ceci Smith – vocals (3) Todd Sears – vocals (10)
Prolusion. Hailing from the southern US state of Mississippi, SLYCHOSIS is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Gregg Johns. Unlike its predecessor, released in 2006, “Slychedelia” is to all intents and purposes Johns’ solo project with guest musicians (both James Walker and Todd Sears were credited as full band members on their debut). The album cover and booklet feature the quirky, surrealistic artwork of Russian-born artist Vladimir Moldavsky.
Analysis. Judging by the lavish packaging of “Slychedelia”, with distinctive artwork reminiscent of the likes of Salvador Dal? and Jeff Jordan (the artist responsible for the covers of The Mars Volta’s last three albums) – though done in elegantly muted earth tones rather than bright, primary colours – it is hard to believe that the album is a completely independent production. In any case, ever since its inception, progressive rock has often been about combining music with the visual arts and Slychosis seems to be following in the wake of the great bands of the Seventies and later. As already stated in the opening paragraph, “Slychedelia” is more of a solo project with guests than a real band effort, as the first Slychosis album instead was. This simple fact brings immediately to mind the many misfires where an artist decides to record an album (or at least part of it) all by themselves – either for financial reasons, or as a sort of ‘vanity project’. However, I am glad to say that it is not the case of this particular album. Even though Gregg Johns is responsible for playing all or most instruments on half of the tracks, the results are far superior and more organic than on other similar productions. When handling all the instrumentation by himself, Johns makes use of the dreaded programmed drums, a presence that is almost impossible to ignore – especially as he uses a real drummer on the other tracks. On the other hand, here their often soulless, overpowering sound does not come across as badly as on other albums of this kind, mainly because the listener’s attention is captured by what the other instruments are doing. Johns also avails himself of technology to add interest to his compositions – the ‘Vocaloid Miriam’, a software that imitates single or multiple female voices, is used to great effect on a number of tracks, especially the album’s ‘epic’ (in tone rather than length), Crimson Fields of Glory. He also manages to successfully reproduce some instruments that are not exactly commonplace in rock music, like the harp and the bagpipes. Even if authentic instruments might be more desirable, modern technology provides the opportunity to introduce their sounds into a recording when, for some reason or the other, it is not feasible to get hold of the real thing. The ten tracks featured on “Slychedelia” are all rather complex in their own way, with frequent changes of pace and lively interaction between the instruments. Most of them are instrumental, which is a good thing, since Gregg Johns’ vocals, though adequate, are not the strongest or most memorable around. Not surprisingly, the best of the vocal tracks is Cosmic Irony, featuring guest vocalist Ceci Smith – whose intriguingly androgynous voice can definitely carry the song’s almost poppy melody – and some spacey, hard-edged lead guitar work in the bridge and at the end. The other ‘conventional’ song, Metaphysical Fitness, is a mellow, spacey ballad with a strong Pink Floyd vibe and very pleasing guitar and sax parts. The instrumentals, on the other hand, are the real strong point of “Slychedelia” – none more so than the 8-minute-plus Flag of Dimbu, the longest item on the album, based on some sort of sci-fi epic tale. Gregg Johns plays all instruments on this five-part tour-de-force, built around a thunderous, keyboard-and-drum main theme and featuring multilayered synths, eerie electronic sound effects, and clean, Gilmour-inspired guitar. On Harps of Space, as the title hints, the distinctive sound of the electronic harp makes its appearance, alongside the deep rumbling of the organ and the gentle tinkling of the piano. Oddly enough, the weird chanting interludes reminded me of Blue Oyster Cult’s equally weird Shadow of California. More spacey, atmospheric vibes appear on the multi-part St Johns’ Wood, with some interesting guitar-piano interplay, and Afterlife, which alternates sparse, ethereal passages with some harsh, heavy riffing. The album is brought to a close by Crimson Fields of Glory, a compelling piece inspired by Scottish history, and as such featuring the haunting sound of electronic bagpipes, as well as military drumming and the spoken vocals of Todd Sears over a background of eerie noises and keyboards. Personally, I would have given “Slychedelia” a higher rating if not for the presence of programmed drums, whose mechanical sound (though not as irksome as on other albums I have recently heard) lends a somewhat artificial touch to the music. Hopefully Gregg Johns will revert to using a real band for any future Slychosis recordings.
Conclusion. “Slychedelia” is the kind of album that might take repeated listens to be fully appreciated, though it is definitely worth the effort. While I would hardly call it innovative, it does make good use of its influences, and avoids sounding overly derivative. Indeed, this a disc that manages to blend modern and classic stylings with a good measure of success, and as such it will appeal to many prog fans: A very promising effort from a group of gifted musicians, deserving extra kudos for the magnificent artwork.
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