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Island - Pictures CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

4.23 | 216 ratings

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Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Hailing from Switzerland, Island a band that brought out an important effort to the prog genre from the obscurity that typically signals "cult bands" or "collector's item" bands. Island is one of the most lauded Swiss bands in prog circles, and quite rightly so - their "Pictures" album is a beautiful example of how well can complexity, density and extravagant humor be combined when a genuine musical intelligence is in command. The chaotic solemnity of the intro piece, precisely entitled 'Introduction', states an exercise on Dadaistic dementia abruptly giving way to 'Zero', the instrumental that properly opens up the album's overall mood. This piece is highly dynamic, with Scherer's keyboards and Meier's drums stating a peculiar combination of Wigwam and "Volume 2"-era Soft Machine, while Fisch's playful sax lines sound like something out of a Hatfield album. When the transition to a slower, denser interlude occurs, the band delivers a sort of closeness to VdGG and "Lizard"-era King Crimson. Such a pity that this interlude is so short, but of course, the return of the initial motif has to be welcomed, too. At this point, even when lead singer Benjamin Jäger hasn't gotten the chance to go beyond additional percussion duties, the receptive listener can only but feel captivated by the way in which the band creates real rocking energy through the intricate explorations comprised in their compositions. The title track, which lasts almost 17 minutes, is the first sung number in the album. The track's ambiences and melodic grooves easily bring to mind references to VdGG, Matching Mole and Wigwam. There are moments that might as well remind us of the Canterbury-friendly seminal age of Henry Cow as well as Zappa, with a weirdness that is quite effective in both appeal and mystery. The long instrumental interlude delivers a very rich set of melodic developments and textures that bring Magma, Hatfield and Gentle Giant to mind: the instrumentalists clearly have a deep knowledge of the genre's most defying purveyors, as well as the sort of sound that their ambitious projections aim at. The last section starts with a fusion-related mellow passage that ultimately leads to a reprise of the opening section's main body: the final motif is quite catchy, bearing a cleverly constrained (albeit obvious) energy. This band's compositional approach is really uncompromising. The album's second half begins with 'Herold and King / Dloreh'. The opening section is a soft, dissonantly driven piano solo. Once it is over, a psychedelic crescendo builds a set of spacey moods that serve as a bridge to the extravagant main body. Variations go on and on, including bizarre vocalizations that mix the jazz-meets-Baroque syncopations of GG and the humoresque vibe of Zappa. The most recognizable instrumental intersections recurrently bear the influences from VdGG, Hatfield and Wigwam (by now, the usual suspects), only Island provides the whole sonic framework a Gothic tonality that enhances the sinister potentiality already present in the compositional structure. 'Here and Now', as well as the preceding track, lasts 12+ minutes. Its overall mood is more extroverted in comparison, yet the dark vibe and extravagant attitude remain solid and unchanging. Some organ layers sound creepy, almost like those on the 'Carnival of Souls' movie. There is also a lyrical passage that evidently reveals a clear melodic structure, but the general arrangement of it is gloomy enough as to make sense within the song's general development: this is something that Fripp had learn to perfect in that KC underrated masterpiece called "Lizard". Island's approach, in comparison, has a rougher edge and lesser leanings to orchestral schemes. Near the end, things spice up quite nicely in a Canterbury sort of way: the climax proves effective, stating a more extroverted approach than the one that closured the title track. The CD edition includes a bonus track that dates back from an earlier time. 'Empty Bottles' lasts 23 ½ minutes and it is, indeed, the most jazz-driven piece in this item. Its structure is heavily based on the way that the ongoing jamming emerges from the interactions among the musicians. Being less aggressive than any of the tracks in the official album, it sounds less like Wigwam or VdGG and more like classic Supersister. The layout of various motifs in a fluid sequence receives a large amount of strength from the presence of a real bass guitar player at this point of Island's history. Of course, the listener who has been very impressed, while capable of appreciating the good musicianship displayed in 'Empty Bottles', will miss the special intricacy that Island managed to recreate from an original treatment of varied influences. All in all, "Pictures" is an absolute gem of the prog genre and a must for all collectors who love their prog very enriched with psychedelic grooves, jazzy cadences and an unabashed gusto for complexity. Island has
Cesar Inca | 4/5 |


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