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Zypressen - Zypressen CD (album) cover





3.98 | 31 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Zypressen' - Zypressen (63/100)

Halfway into my first listen of Zypressen's self-titled (and only) album, I was left with the impression that the band's drummer must have the title of 'easiest job in the world'. It took a quick glance at the band members and their respective instruments to see the folly in that statement. Hirofumi Imai is listed as Zypressen's drummer, but he also takes charge of the marimba, xylophone, glockenspeil and 'wind synthesizer'. Add to that the example of a bassist who moonlights as the band's cellist/violinist, and you might get a better idea that Zypressen are miles from ever taking the 'easy' route in their music.

Although their layered arrangements and forays with atonalism convey their avant-prog influences, Zypressen is firmly rooted in chamber rock, the particular likes of which Univers Zero might undoubtedly stand as the flagship for. In the case of Zypressen (released in 1996, now something of a hidden gem amongst chamber/avant nerds), think of what the lighter side of Univers Zero might have sounded like, had it been influenced directly by the darker side of Univers Zero. There's no doubts that Zypressen is a weird and challenging album in parts (especially for those to whom 'chamber rock' may be an alien term) but the essence of their music is soft and listenable.

Zypressen's arrangements are nuanced and far more complex than the generally light tone of the album would suggest. At their best, Zypressen function in unison and without any sign of ego or individual motivations; it's really as if the music has been composed from a bird's eye view; none of the instruments are more than brushstrokes in of themselves- everything is conceived as a part of the whole. This gestalt approach to performance is a far cry from the egotism of rock (progressive rock included) but it's right at home with chamber musical tradition, which tends to pride itself on placing the whole before its parts.

With that context in mind, it's a bit of an irony that the composed parts of Zypressen come together only loosely. There are some individually excellent musical concepts to emerge here (just hear some of the explorations in "STR (Against the Wind)" to see my point) but there's very little of the adhesive Zypressen would have needed to give them the structural coherence their promising arrangements probably deserved.

Based on some of the track name extensions here ("Tangent", for instance, is denoted here as a 'new version') I get the sense that there is a side of Zypressen's career that we're not seeing here. Where are the old versions, the old mixes that this self-titled is building upon? I think some much-needed context and history would help put the album's strengths (and, more head-scratchingly: its weaknesses) in perspective. For a style and approach that obviously prides itself on the merits of composition above all else, it is puzzling that Zypressen do not manage to bind their art with a more satisfying structure. The beautifully written tripartite suite at album's end proves to be an exception to the rule (drawing chamber classical and jazz together in a fit of Third Stream brilliance) but even then, it does not feel like the band has properly managed to get their riffs to fit together.

That the band's sense of composition is so unfocused is a shame, really. A lot of the ideas here are pretty amazing, and surely deserved more than the structural mess that was afforded to them.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |


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