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Algernon - Ghost Surveillance CD (album) cover

GHOST SURVEILLANCE

Algernon

 

Eclectic Prog

3.75 | 47 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars I've read this band has spent a lot of time touring in support of this album and their Cuneiform record deal. So here's the thing - what does an Algernon live show look like? Even more puzzling, what does an Algernon audience look like? That captures my imagination even more than their music, which is admittedly quite fresh, innovative and ambitious while at the same time teeters on a dangerous line between a top-drawer discovery and ambient background for your next avant-garde themed party.

Algernon are a Chicago-based quintet of obviously talented musicians who clearly have gone through formal and extensive training on their respective instruments as well as in music theory. Being Chicagoans they are pretty much required by state law to be well- versed and proficient in all aspects of modern jazz, in this case the experimental variety that ranges from smooth to dissonant, sometimes in the same composition. But they are also of a generation that probably still plays Frisbee golf and drags their fixed-gear bicycle onto the city bus with them, so there seems to be no hesitance to blend post- and math-rock constructions into the music, or to throw in rather unconventional instruments like vibraphone, glockenspiel and theremin to give new textures to already challenging music. Which of course all serves to endear them immensely to all manner of progressive rock, avant-garde and even pretentious poseur music fans. Mix together all stereotypes that come to mind when reading that sentence and you can start to imagine what a couple hours with these guys in a live show might be like. I'd pay good money myself.

Opening with "The Briefing" the band sets a tone of lively, rather ambitious jazzy instrumental music heavy of melodic and rhythmic constructions with very crisp, well- enunciated acoustic string instrumentation layered into a sonic wall of synthesizers, electric guitar and neurotic percussion. "Broken Lady" offers more of the same but a bit more restrained, and I'm left thinking this is a natural progression for two decades of post-Bark Psychosis contemporary music, but not anything really earth-shaking.

This probably puts me at odds with fans of the band that prefer their jazzy stylings to the more rock and avant-influenced compositions on the latter part of the CD. But on the first six tracks I hear a lot of musical variation but don't feel a lot of emotional variation, and the lack of emotional connection puts the album at risk of becoming a chic soundtrack rather than at the forefront of focus.

Things change abruptly, and for the better in my opinion, beginning with the cacophonic, awkward and mostly inharmonic "Intelligence Meltdown", a brief segue that separates the Pat Methany-channeling early tracks from what's to come. And while the 11-plus minute "Debrief and Defect" takes a bit too long to develop in my opinion, it eventually does and listeners are rewarded with a messy and glorious climax of jarring drums, improvisational guitar and layered percussion that leads seamlessly into an even more ambitious and rewarding "Objective Compromised".

The band brings things way down for a slow, keyboard-heavy closing on "The L Pill" which combines hints of the glock and theremin and left me feeling quite pleased with the nearly one hour investment of my time.

I haven't heard the band's earlier self-released albums, but after picking this one up I'm sure I'll hunt them down soon. In the meantime I'll give this one four out of five stars and recommend it pretty highly to post and math rock fans as well as those who just like to listen to eclectic music made by well-taught artists that can't be easily pigeonholed.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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