ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages


Vajra - 2012 - "Pleroma"

(46:12, ‘Vajra’)


Prolusion. The US project VAJRA is the creative vehicle of composer, singer and keyboardist Annamaria Pinna, a venture she planned while staying in India on a self-imposed exile. Employing the help of various musical friends, her ideas were given shape and form after she returned to the States. The end result was released in the summer of 2012 – as the nine-track CD titled "Pleroma".

1.  Inside the Flame 6:14
2.  Almost One 5:11
3.  India 2:18
4.  Blind 4:48
5.  Intuition 4:33
6.  Erode the Will 4:46
7.  3-14 5:29
8.  See through You 5:15
9.  Akkord Pleromy 3:58
10. The Apple 8:19

Annamaria Pinna – vocals; keyboards
Blake Fleming – drums, percussion
Dough Wright – bass 
Will Dahl – guitars 
Tabla Jon – tabla 

Analysis. The last few years have been an interesting ride to be on for those interested in progressive rock. Following many years as a strictly underground phenomenon music described as progressive rock has now started to get an increased interest by media in general, and an increasing amount of artists have started to either explore progressive rock itself or incorporate its elements in their music. Personally I think the US band Vajra belongs to the latter category of artists, although I can see why many would describe it as a purebred progressive act too. Structurally this band opts for compositions of a mainstream orientation however. Two exceptions aside, the songs generally stay put within a well worked out theme throughout. Thematic shifts and any distinct developments are few and far between, and this aspect of their material is what I guess will see most regard them as a band better described as indie or alternative rather than progressive rock as such. But it's within the ebb and flow of the arrangements that the avid listener will find elements that should intrigue an art rock audience. The basic premise is songs dominated by lead vocals and rums. Loud, insistent rhythms and up front, powerful melodic vocals are key features, and fairly often a compelling bass line is added to the proceedings too. But careful use of guitars, generally employed in a twofold manner, is one of two interesting details. Verse and intermediate passages tend to employ reverberating, plucked guitar licks light in tone and somewhat frail in nature, occasionally employing darker notes and a somewhat grittier sound. Then for the chorus parts and some of the instrumental movements the guitars shift to distorted riffs, frequently with drone characteristics, dark and compact, but employed in a dampened and generally non-dominant manner. Which, combined with the up front drums and vocals, in total creates a majestic soundscape bordering on the grandiose, high impact for sure, with careful and occasional use of keyboard textures as an additional feature that will interest art rock fans, as will the use of tabla and the brief raga tendencies that sometimes make an appearance. At last there are two pieces on this disc that are markedly different from the rest. India is the first of these, a three minute long cosmic synth drone that adds a dark, menacing undercurrent to the proceedings at the halfway point. Later on we're treated to Akkord Pleromy, this one a multiple layered percussion construction with light toned rhythmic elements playing upon a subdued synth drone that shifts between a lighter toned and a somewhat darker toned range. Both of them are effective and well made pieces, as is this CD as a whole really. And while arguably being more of a borderline case with just as much a foundation in indie and alternative music as in art rock as such, it is a production that contains quite a few elements that most likely will interest an art rock audience too.

Conclusion. Vajra's debut "Pleroma" is a compelling production. Perhaps not progressive rock as such, but utilizing a fair few details and approaches I suspect will interest quite a few self described progressive rock fans. Blending elements from metal and rock and flavoring them with Indian inspired world music details is what we're treated to here, sporting sophisticated arrangements in compositions of a more straightforward and mainstream oriented nature. I'd guess that quite a few fans of a band like Porcupine Tree might enjoy this CD, and mostly so those who enjoy the harder edged part of that band's material.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: February 16, 2012
The Rating Room

Vajra - 2012 - "Pleroma"


Analysis. Personally I had two different feelings when listened to Vajra’s “Pleroma”, and I’ll review the disc by resting on both of those. What Vajra presents here is by and large a collection of songs, featuring few moments where a certain musical intrigue – or eventfulness, if you will – can be perceived. With their near-ever-present backbone of drums, supporting the harmonic work of keyboards and guitar (it’s the bass that most often appears to be the main or, rather, really soloing instrument here), and heaps of vocals, the songs sound much the same overall. Many of them have the same – moderately slow – pace; the instrumental sections are normally very short, most of those as similar to each other as the vocal ones (think a standard verse/refrain/etc approach), all of which leaves no room for surprises. On the other hand, the recording sounds fairly original: only the 1997 Minimum Vital release, “Esprit d’Amor”, comes to mind as a reference point, albeit at its most straightforward. My alter ego :-) also notices that Vajra walks ground that is rarely explored in the prog rock circle, fearlessly defining the outfit’s style as quasi progressive pop music. ‘He’ also believes that some of the songs differ from the others, asserting that not all of them are songs actually. (I’m not the one to argue the latter detail, since it’s a simple truth.) What Vajra develops on the pieces Inside the Flame, Almost One and The Apple is quite an innovative blend of pop and rock with metal overtones in places, doing so in a figurative context that applies some elements of Prog, the music imbued with a sense of drama. Assuredly the highlights of the album, Blind and See through You are in many ways similar, though on the other hand, both of them stand out for their lush Indian motifs, which are provided by tabla and what sounds much like a sitar. The lyrics are fairly deep; each of the songs tells a story, avoiding a trite “boy meets/parts with girl” formulaic amorous topic – which, as well as the emotional side of the material, is atypical of conventional pop music. Band leader Annamaria Pinna provides vocals admirably, throughout displaying a strong singing agility, her voice both flexible and graceful, like a flying tree from Progressor’s mythology, whose roots hover over the ground and whose branches-wings are high in the sky. Well, it’s time to come down to earth. The remaining songs, Intuition, Erode the Will and 3-14, are creations of the same construction, etc. as the ones that have been described first, but are delivered in a more balladic manner, the last of them almost a 100% ballad with no instrumental interludes at all. And they follow one another, alas. There are also two instrumental tracks, India and Akkord Pleromy, both only featuring Annamaria on synthesizers. The first of them is titled improperly, to my mind, but is a fine piece, reminiscent of ‘Stonehenge’ from Black Sabbath’s “Born Again”. As to the latter (4:00), it can hardly be regarded otherwise than as a makeweight, since there is nothing besides chimes and a single, monotonously pulsating synth drone.

Conclusion. While certainly not the most daring piece of music ever heard, the album has a very specific aura, is telling as well as innovative in its own right. The musicianship is precise, the sound pristine, and the production is top-notch. Try it.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: February 16, 2012
The Rating Room

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