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Discus - 1st CD (album) cover





3.79 | 32 ratings

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3 stars Stunning debut for Hasan and Discus

Like Dieter, I come to the Discus debut after hearing their second album first and the result is something akin to riding the Merry-Go-Round after coming off the Corkscrew mega roller-coaster. That's not entirely true in that the debut does have plenty of fireworks measured against the standards of most bands, but compared to "tot licht!" it is a bit tamer. But despite the partially legitimate criticisms of reviewers here and elsewhere there is still much to enjoy on "1rst." In fact I like this album nearly as well as the second one even though it took some time to get to that conclusion as "tot licht!" leaves quite an impression.

This album is bookended by two ambitious and exciting modern prog treats, "Lamentation and Fantasia Gamelantronique" and "Contrasts" which together anchor a solid third of the album in raucous smoothies of shredding guitars, woodwinds, electronics, chants, and rhythms. They are absolutely going for broke every second and it is wild fun. "Doc's Tune" belongs in this group of material as well. Another chunk of the album is given to the "light jazz and pop" tunes that many complain about. There are four tracks in this group and they feature the usual superb instrumentation and Nonnie's delightful vocals. The charges that they are throwaways are not fair in my opinion because each track still features a nice proggy interlude in the middle with charged playing and solos on various instruments. Last are the two other gems that bump this up to 4 stars for me. "Condissonance" is an absolutely beautiful piece featuring violin and clarinet (I think) over the tastiest acoustic guitar playing I've heard in some time. The piece could have been subtitled "soundtrack for the trippy fish" adorning the album's cover because it works perfectly against images of underwater traffic and aquatic navel gazing. Then you get the stunning "Violin Metaphysics" which is a swirling, turbulent violin/electronica soundscape that pushed my Djam Karet buttons. The Discus sound is unique and accomplished on every level. After getting more intense by adding metallic elements to "tot licht!" I still believe their composition has not reached its peak. I would like to hear the band relax, pull back from the frantic chaos, resist the need to be quirky, and let flow just a bit more organic feel. A little less shredding and a little more instrumental breathing. I'm not suggesting they become Camel, but rather that I think a combination of their forward-looking vision with a bit more serenity might be the key.

Iwan Hasan reads his press and is acutely aware of what reviewers and others have said about the band. Reading interviews with him reveals an engaging, humble, and likable man who is not only one hell of a musician but also willing to admit that Discus was just learning to swim at this time. In January 2002 he spoke candidly of struggling to define the band and sharing the feedback he was hearing from Discus fans with GEPR's Nenad Kobal: ".we also feel that our first album might have too many different directions in it. We didn't feel so initially, because we just wrote it and did it without worrying about what kind of a band we were. But then we get feedback from listeners and we really pay attention to them. The difficult thing is that different people have different opinions, but in general, people seem to say if you're gonna do a light jazz tune, do it for another project and market it differently, even use a different band name. Don't make us confused. That's the light jazz, not jazz in general. That's an important distinction because jazz, of course, can mean a lot of things from standards to ballads to light pop jazz to modal jazz, bebop, fusion, experimental, avant garde free jazz, etc. The other one, Anugerah, which seems to be too light for some, I enjoy as being a very uplifting thing. Those two tracks are light jazz pop and there are 2 others that happen to sound like radio-commercial pop rock but have some irregularities in the middle. I have found jazz fans like the 2 jazz tracks, some casual radio style music listeners like the other 2, and those 2 types of listeners hate all the other stuff, especially like Lamentation and Fantasia Gamelantronique, which prog fans like. Among prog fans, there seem to be divided opinions between those 4 tracks. I guess it also depends on whether the prog fan in particular came to prog from a pop rock route or from a jazz route or just from nowhere - directly to prog. But the point is various people from the different camps seem to say the same thing: make your next album more cohesive, don't make it sound like two or more different bands playing on the same album I guess our general direction now seems to be combining all the diverse elements of our backgrounds but adding a symphonic / hard rock touch while exploring more traditional Indonesian elements..So maybe we are going to mix the gamelan/contempo-classical/fusion style, which of course automatically includes some jazz in there, with a symphonic/progressive/hard-rock touch and still do some chamber music. Other experimentation, such as the violin-and-digital delay piece we had on our first, will be highly encouraged. I don't know for sure, we're still writing. More than that we're trying to find our own sound." [from GEPR interview with Iwan Hasan, January 2002]

The Discus debut is not quite a perfect album but it is a very solid introduction to the band. I would recommend getting this before venturing into the more difficult "tot licht!" Easily recommended beyond the RIO-Avant genre fan base. Discus is a band that I believe have a true 5-star masterpiece waiting to emerge and they are one band that demands our attention in the future. For the adventurous listener Discus is not to be missed.

Finnforest | 3/5 |


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