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Cartoon - Cartoon CD (album) cover





4.32 | 30 ratings

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5 stars 1979 was the death knell of the classic progressive rock era, and only a few gems would arrive by 1980 with Drama, Permanent Waves and a smattering of others, but it was all over and everyone sensed it. But in Phoenix, Arizona, things were just getting started and a local group of talented young musicians had something surprising on the menu, especially for an American avant-garde rock band at that time. Keyboardist Scott Brazieal, guitarist Mark Innocenti, and drummer Gary Para wanted to do highly complex rock that was playful at the same time, and their fondness for incidental cartoon music was as strong as the neo-classical foundation provided by Brazieal's keys. The band relocated to San Francisco in 1980 where they were joined by violinist Craig Fry and Herb Diamant on woodwinds, releasing their debut Cartoon in 1981.

Though the music is likened to avant-garders such as Univers Zero and Henry Cow, it is neither as dark as the Zeroes nor as loose as Cow, with a symphonic structure in Scott Brazeal's piano and a heavy rock edge from Innocenti's guitar. Much Zappa-like humor is on hand as well and makes for a well rounded prog rock experience. The chaotic 'Shark' opens the album, a pounder that quickly slips into strangeness before just as quickly becoming light, melodic and linear, with appearances by Ludwig Von's 9th and the fine arrangements and ambition of this outfit who, though perhaps not as tight as their counterparts across the Atlantic, were just as zealous about expanding rock. Brazeal's keyboard takes over for the troubled and angled 'Ptomaine Poisoning', Ravel's influence and some great virtuoso playing shows on 'Anemic Bolero' followed by the crawling anthill 'Flotsam' with its asylum tone and muffled voices, all quite rattling for a group of unknown American rockers in the early 80s. 'Apathy in America' is disjointed and counter-layered with powerful piano, synth, bass and drums, finishing with the descriptive cartoon themes the band liked to highlight and hints of Aaron Copland. 'I Have No Teeth' is a beautiful one-minute synth/guitar tour of linear space and squeaky moments, and the album closes with the eleven-minute opus 'Shredded Wheat'.

A splendid band nearly lost to history, Cartoon reminds us that the United States had some prog treasures to offer at a bleak time in popular music. A real delight.

Atavachron | 5/5 |


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