Stick Men 2016
Echoing forward but sideways: cinematic laughter from proponents of dark arts and intellectual pleasures.
There are power trios and then there are these three men: an ensemble of superpower abilities, sensibilities and humor that’s been there from the very beginning – well hidden but perceptible for those willing to see through the veneer of their immaculately adventurous musicianship. This time, though, the game is given away by the album’s very title which references the band’s chosen genre in such a straightforward way it’s hard not to crack a smile, and once Orff, YES and Tchaikovsky have graced the multi-layered “Plutonium” as ghostly quotes – with “La Marseillaise” snippet from the latter’s “1812 Overture” a tentative hint at “Mars” from Holst’s suite which, of course, omitted “Pluto” – the joke becomes a source of joy. So while there’s twilight in the “Schattenhaft” dance, there are also jitters as heavy riffs shred its groove into menacing bits.
Now, punchy pieces such as “The Tempest” dim fierceness of the title track – this vibrant, transparent nocturne of urban alienation and romance – in favor of more song-like approach that Tony Levin has lately demonstrated rather often and Markus Reuter and Pat Mastelotto eagerly support. If it means moving closer to KING CRIMSON, they never saw a problem in this motion, especially when the band were incorporated in THE CRIMSON PROJEkCT, but “Mantra” offers much more in terms of harmony guitars and sinister beat for meditation, adding a spaghetti western twang to an evocative tune. “Rose In The Sand / Requiem” may be the most lyrical, crystal-clear melody on display, even with a funereal finale, yet “Leonardo” marries baroque strum to exotic buzz so vividly it becomes a riveting, faux-orchestral soundtrack to an imaginary conversation between Da Vinci and his namesake, the trio’s manager Pavkovic, just like the meandering “Trey’s Continuum” can describe the playful world of the band’s friend Gunn rather than a gloomy outlook of the album’s bleak deception.
“Embracing The Sun” crawls away from this night anyway as Reuter’s licks dance around Levin’s tapping to measure the groovy depth of Mastelotto’s drums, before “Never The Same” welcomes perpetual changes with a triumphant intensity and innocence of dawn. On the face of it, then, “Prog Noir” is not a bright, immediately catchy record; it requires repeated spins to fully get into but, once there, delights are aplenty.