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(59 min, 'Long Dark Music')
TRACK LIST: 1. Julian UR 7:45 2. Julian I 2:38 3. Love is a Vagabond King 10:43 4. Halo 8:22 5. The Canal of Sunset 4:28 6. Metaphor 2:57 7. Creeper 13:30 8. Julian II 9:00 All tracks: by Pohl & Rongey. Produced by Rongey & Pohl. Additional musical material: by M Richardson & T Fowler. LINEUP: Bill Pohl - guitars; bass pedals; vocals Kurt Rongey - keyboards; vocals John Livingston - drums Matt Hembree - bass
Prolusion. Texas's THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (UR hereafter) had only one album until now, but they have immediately entered the pantheon of cult artists with that superb masterwork. Just like its predecessor, their brand new album, "The Origin of Consciousness", should have been released via The Laser's Edge Records, but it wasn't, for some reason. The CD appears as the fourth release of the Long Dark Music label, owned by the band's main men, Kurt Rongey and Bill Pohl. I have all the UR-related reviews on Progressor: "Through & Through" (UR, 2000), "Solid Earth" (Bill Pohl, 1992), "Book in Hand" and "That Was Propaganda" (Kurt Rongey, 1991 & 1998), and also an interview with Bill Pohl.
Analysis. On "The Origin of Consciousness", UR continues developing the substance that Bill and Kurt have always had a bent for, which was built on the styles that they explored in their solo (rather, semi-collaborative, particularly "That Was Propaganda") projects and which, overall, is symphonic Art-Rock with a slight Jazz-Fusion piquancy. This album, however, is richer in improvisational harmonies than its predecessor. It also more obviously reveals the sources from which the men drew their inspiration, the primary ones being the eponymous UK album, which automatically implies Allan Holdsworth, and Genesis's "A Trick of the Tail". The latent influences include Yes, Brand X, Sieges Even, John Wetton and Gentle Giant, the latter two concerning only the vocal department. But while I could not resist using comparisons this time around, it doesn't conflict with my understanding of the fact that UR has one of the most unique sounds among the contemporary adherents of Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion either. All in all, the music features no cliches, not to mention borrowings. The first song, Julian UR, is somewhat simpler than any of the further ones, though this is a pretty relativist remark, because the music is never really accessible. The point is that this is the only track here, entirely lying within the framework of classic Art-Rock, with no digressions from the style, so it's comprehensible already upon the first spin. Although short, Julian-I and Metaphor are eventful and saturated, both sliding between Art-Rock with distinctly heavy bass lines and the keys-laden quasi Jazz-Fusion. All of the other five compositions (and they run 45+ minutes): Love is a Vagabond King, Halo, The Canal of Sunset, Creeper and Julian II employ not only an abundance of dynamic contrasts and shifting key signatures, but also the frequent use of dissonance, which makes them sound engagingly angular - perhaps too angular and unusual from the viewpoint of an average traditional symphonic lover, but which, in reality, is just one of the greatest values of the material. Each represents a well-balanced synthesis of symphonic Art-Rock and quasi Jazz-Fusion with certain avant-garde tendencies and some authentic improvisations, more often coming from Bill Pohl, the long guitar solo on Creeper being especially spectacular in this respect. The guitar and keyboard (mainly piano and synthesizers) solos vary in tempo, tirelessly crossing the length and breadth of the basic themes and always contrasting with them and each other either. The band shines with inventiveness and virtuosity, equally at ease working with symphonic and improvisational harmonies, occasionally turning even to Classical music-related forms, provided by the piano, as is in the postlude of Halo, and also Space Rock: on the one instrumental composition, Love is a Vagabond King, and the largely instrumental Julian II, which are the most tangled, both musically and stylistically.
Conclusion. Don't lose your way in this amazing musical ticket and be happy! This is definitely one of the very best Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion related albums I've heard this year. Top-2005
VM: October 6, 2005
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