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Pseudo/Sentai - There's Always a Fucking Problem CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.90 | 12 ratings

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4 stars Pseudo/Sentai are an American duo of multi-instrumentalists who craft dizzyingly complex, convoluted concept pieces comprised of short tracks full of riddle-like lyrics and multi-tracked vocals out the wazoo. As far as I can tell, TAAFP is their third long-form album, 22 songs totaling 44 minutes, and it shows the Sentai seemingly turning a corner in their creative lives. Not just for the Sentai, but for experimental rock of all stripes in the past year (I'm thinking of Kayo Dot and the Swans here, just for example), bands seem to be reaching a creative zenith in which years of experimenting have produced some good hard data as to what works, and such groups are now synthesizing their best ideas into a unique vision and albums unlike any heard before. That's the impression I get from Scott Baker and Greg Murphy of Pseudo/Sentai on this album.

On past albums and EPs, the Sentai have never failed to impress us with their mathematical complexity and the sheer strangeness of their sound -- think of Mr. Bungle on helium covering a Styx album at 45 RPM -- but if anything was lacking on prior releases, it was a sense of pacing and drama. That element is made abundantly clear on this album, with loud fast moments offset by somber piano interludes, acoustic guitar segments, and the strategic use of repetition of lyrics and musical themes to give the listener something solid to hold on to. The lyrics are as mysterious and imagistic as ever, never overtly revealing the plot, but rather giving clues as to what it is; in that sense, the Sentai remain somewhat inaccessible to the casual listener but those taken in by the music will have fun trying to dissect what's going on (the lyrics are helpfully reproduced on their Bandcamp page).

The album opens with a melancholy piano instrumental ("Briefing at Moniker Manor") before erupting into the title track, which has an immediately likable hook but still has room for myriad twists and turns in just over two minutes' time. The narrator then appears to take flight, perhaps into a dream sequence ("Shrubbreeze"), leading into the longest track, the dramatic and frightening "Naught Shore", which has imagery of being thrown overboard from a ship. A couple more short tunes and acoustic interludes later, the action then appears to take place inside the memory of a computer (or perhaps a computer game), with a series of songs depicting a surreal series of battles and adventures, somewhat oddly ending with a "skit" which brings the band members out from behind their colorful production to display a bit of lighthearted goofing off. "Heaven is a Medicine" is a cool instrumental that introduces the final stretch of the album with an industrial grind (with a really interesting water-drip-like beat) that reminds me of some of Throbbing Gristle's work. "Pyro Cyclone Dances the Weathervane Waltz" is another of the few extended tracks here (4 minutes really is a long time for these guys, ideas-per-minute-wise), and a strange evil circus atmosphere prevails here. The album ends somewhat quizzically, with four short tracks that don't have a lot of lyrics, and the final track (ostensibly a reprise of the title track) ends fairly abruptly after about a minute and a half of some pretty sinister sounds.

Overall, this was a very satisfying album, and had plenty of "wow" moments due to the wider array of instrumental sounds and textures, and some really abrupt musical changes within many of these songs. It is a lot to take in, and even with the lyrics nearby I was still a bit lost even on my fourth listen. But in addition to the complexity, I sense a new maturity in their approach that keeps ideas unfolding at a more deliberate pace that aids the emotional impact of the music. Very impressive.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |


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