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(46.23, Cuneiform Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. In-A-Gadda-De-Vito 5.07 2. Prelude to Forshadow'n 6.11 3. Landscape With Gun and Chandelier 3.29 4. Keeping Rice Evil 2.38 5. Transparent Seas Radio Edit 28.21 6. The Infinitesimal Fractions of Ping & Pong 1.17 LINEUP: Paul Lai – guitar Marty Sataman – bass David Moeggenberg – guitar Phil Cobb – keyboards Chris Meszler – drums With: B “Iceman” Miller – drums (6) Mike Armstrong – saxophone (6)
Prolusion. Hailing from California, UPSILON ACRUX (a name, according to the band itself, without a specific meaning) were formed in 1997 by guitarist Paul Lai – who is also the only member left of the original line-up. Their debut album, “In the Acrux of the Upsilon King”, was released in 1999. “Radian Futura”, their sixth album, was recorded as a five-piece, with the same line-up as their previous release, “Galapagos Momentum”.
Analysis. A word of warning for anyone approaching this album, and especially for those listeners who set a great store by melody and conventional ‘listenability’: “Radian Futura” is not an easy morsel to swallow. Angular and often jarring, pushing the example set by the likes of King Crimson (clearly referenced in the title of the band’s debut album) to the extreme, it is not the kind of music you can put on as a background to other activities – unless you want to end up with a headache. On the cusp of Avant-Prog and Math-Rock, Upsilon Acrux’s sound is certainly dynamic, even exhilarating in its own way, but also extremely demanding, and, without a doubt, more than a bit of an acquired taste. “Radian Futura” is also structured in a rather idiosyncratic way. While it is not unusual for an album’s longest track (the ‘epic’, in progressive rock speak) to be located either at the beginning or at the end, here the ironically-named Transparent Seas Radio Edit occupies the fifth slot on a total of six tracks. Clocking in at almost 30 minutes, in quite a staggering contrast with the rest, Transparent Seas is a veritable behemoth, which seems to expand on the content of the other compositions, dilating it into a tour-de-force based on monstrously complex drumming patterns. Thankfully, Upsilon Acrux did not overreach themselves as so many other bands or artists are prone to do, and kept the album’s running time at a very wise 46 minutes. Anything longer than that would have pushed the album to the verge of inaccessibility. Even though rather short for today’s standards, “Radian Futura” – and I hope my readers will forgive me resorting to a cliche – is definitely not for the faint-hearted. For one thing, the almost complete lack of melody can make the listening process somewhat arduous for the average prog fan. Conveyed in visual terms, the music is rocky, jagged and spiky, like a mountain to be climbed bare-handed, more than a gently flowing water course. Mostly guitar-based, with keyboards used to provide touches of ‘colour’, so to speak, rather than as a leading instrument in their own right, “Radian Futura” displays the typical structure of the math-rock genre – the interlocking, repetitive guitar riffs sparring with drums unleashed in creative chaos. Actually, even if, at a first listen, the album may seem clearly guitar-dominated, it is the drums that drive the music along in a manner that may occasionally sound at odds with the rest of the instrumentation. Much in the way of one of the subgenre’s iconic acts, Don Caballero, everything revolves around Chris Meszler’s insanely asymmetrical drumming patterns; while the bristling, multilayered riffing follows the post-rock template, creating crescendos of almost unbearable intensity. The only track straying from this basic pattern (if pattern it can be called) is album closer The Infinitesimal Fractions of Ping & Pong, a trippy, laid-back effort lasting barely over one minute – which might get listeners to wonder about how the band would sound if they decided to pursue that particular avenue. Though it may strike as somewhat anticlimactic after the rollercoaster ride of Transparent Seas, it is certainly a clever touch. The first four tracks, on the other hand, might superficially come across as variations on the same theme, their individual features not immediately evident. On opener In-A-Gadda-De-Vito, the keyboards provide a faintly perceptible melodic element, a sort of fil rouge holding together a composition that sounds mainly made up of fast-and-furious drum bursts and insistent guitar lines, delivered at different speed. A faint shade of melody lurks again in the middle of Prelude to Foreshadow’n, in the shape - of all things - of a waltz-like tune, though interpreted in a somewhat dissonant fashion. In this item, the King Crimson influence is even more evident than in the rest of the album, the guitar and drums playing two slightly different, though complementary, lines. Stubbornly manic riffing and drumming are the name of the game in Landscape with Gun and Chandelier; while Keeping Rice Evil deceives with a slow, almost plodding opening, uncharacteristically measured drumming and well-paced guitar line, before unfolding into an aural attack in the same mould as the previous offerings. As already outlined at the beginning of this review, Transparent Seas is almost impossible to describe in any remotely meaningful way. In spite of its ‘kitchen-sink’ approach, there is a logic behind it, an organization that goes beyond a mere jumble of musical pieces without any apparent connection. It is also a rather exhausting experience, with more unexpected twists and turns than the average listener may be used to, shifting from passages full of manic energy to quieter, almost rarefied ones, and even some judicious sprinklings of melody. While the guitars weave nets of astounding intricacy, the drummer seems to be competing with himself in building up the most impossibly complex patterns - also showcased in a brief solo spot strategically placed in the middle of the track. Dynamic and challenging to the nth degree, “Radian Futura” is music for the brain – with a welcome touch of nonsensical irony in the absurdist song titles, which seem to have been chosen as a contrast to the single-minded intensity of the sound. The somewhat unsettling, Hipgnosis-style cover, on the other hand, seems to perfectly sum up the album’s musical content.
Conclusion. Such a wild ride as “Radian Futura” is inevitably bound to appeal to a minority of listeners – those who prize innovation and complexity over melody and emotion. Challenging and often abrasive, its in-your-face nature will very probably polarize listeners, some of whom might feel that this is one of those instances when progressiveness teeters too closely to the brink of unlistenability. However, while Upsilon Acrux is a band possessed of strong chops, quite paradoxically their music is much more about the compositions than any self-indulgent display of technical brilliance. Not a masterpiece, and definitely an acquired taste, but an interesting album nonetheless.
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