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Alex Ward - Gated CD (album) cover

GATED

Alex Ward

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.00 | 3 ratings

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Mirakaze
4 stars Alex Ward has never been one to make friendliness to the general listener a priority and Gated is no exception to this. The first track lets one know right away what they're in for as it drops them head-first in a fast-paced, dissonant and syncopated heavy guitar and woodwinds riff interspersed with frenetic atonal clarinet and guitar solos. While the drums are all programmed, Ward plays every other instrument by himself and proves himself a virtuoso at all of them. It is the cherry on top of an album that runs the gamut from harsh math/noise rock to free jazz.

Actually, my main criticism of this album is that the opener "Heat Patch" lasts only two minutes and the album doesn't really reach the same height afterwards, but that doesn't mean it's ever bad. On the contrary: "The Celebrated Restriction" and "The Bradford Factor" follow very much in the same vein but are instead centred on electric guitar and electric piano, respectively. These are both highly complex, professionally written compositions that won't appeal to listeners looking for recognizable melodies to hold on to but will certainly find an audience among those who wish to discover something new every other time they listen to something they've already heard before. "Buyout" is guitar-focussed again but is more of a minimalist rhythm study, again bringing comparisons to heavier math rock acts like Wyxz or Guapo to mind. Another true highlight that represents quite a different side of Ward's musical personality is the stately, arrhythmic "Let", a dissonant and unnerving avant-jazz composition for a septet of bass, percussion and woodwinds, which has a very cool chamber prog vibe.

I must admit to not personally caring for every part of the album, and it is unfortunate in this respect that my favourite song on the album happens to be the shortest while the lengthiest track ? "Hewn", an 18-minute noise collage of guitar feedback and vicious percussion assaults that kind of overstays its welcome for me ? happens to be the one that I could do the most without. I find the other two lengthy tracks more preferable: the album closer "Maybe It'll Break The Heat" is another guitar-led drone which has a simpler structure than "Hewn" but feels a lot more cathartic despite the lack of percussion, and "Cushioned" is a free improvisation that manages to stay intriguing throughout its 14 minutes. Free improv was what Mr. Ward started his musical career with after all, and he pays homage to the practice again on the ominous "Stilled", which sounds like a dark ambient theme with a reverberated clarinet roaring over it in the distance. In all, Gated is a fascinating tour de force for prog, jazz and math rock fans with trained ears and special tastes.

Mirakaze | 4/5 |

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