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Matthew Parmenter - Astray CD (album) cover


Matthew Parmenter



3.97 | 88 ratings

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4 stars It's a shame Discipline dissolved before they were able to build a larger discography. Only two albums, with the second, 'Unfolded Like Staircase', among the best U.S. prog records ever. Discipline was largely great thanks to the talent of leader and songwriter Matthew Parmenter, and 'Astray' is a most welcome addition to the man's slowly growing songbook.

Lots of people compared Discipline's second album, and Parmenter's vocal delivery, to Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill. In terms of pure emotional bloodletting, I hear the comparison, but in terms of sound and tone, I really don't think they have much in common. But 'Astray' indeed comes close to the Hammill solo aesthetic, and at times is a great companion to the great man's most difficult '70s solo work.

Besides the bass work of Discipline's Mathew Kennedy, Parmenter lays down all instruments, in addition to his warm and confident vocals. As a drummer and a guitarist, he is adequate, but not a virtuoso. His keyboard, sax and violin work are his strong points, so you get an album that sounds quite band-like. This isn't a sparse, simplistic singer-songwriter affair.

High points are "Distracted", with an infectious foreboding sway, the lyrically interesting "Dirty Mind" (paired with music that gives the subject matter a contemplative, haunting edge), and "Now", which mirrors the deep and dark introspection of latter-day Hammill. All songs are textured and written with plenty of depth. Much of the mood is melancholic beauty incarnate (see "Between Me And The End"), and just about all of it is rewarding, unfailing in its attempts to emotionally move the intent listener. The only problem is that some of the songs seem to stray beyond their natural end, wandering for several minutes in an instrumental limbo (or a too- repetitive chorus). To be sure, Parmenter and Kennedy have enough musical talent between them, but these songs are primarily centered on Parmenter's poetry and his captivating vocal delivery and should probably stay that way. "Now", "Another Vision" (an otherwise great song) and the overlong "Modern Times" suffer from this over-long syndrome. I'm usually first in line for a 20-minute epic, and though "Modern Times" has its share of beautiful and challenging moments, it suffers from some of the superfluous wandering heard elsewhere on the album. Overall, though, the songwriting and performances are of a high standard, enough that this can be easily recommended to all fans of Discipline and Peter Hammill's best solo work. (oh yeah, big P.S. here: I do NOT see this as having anything to do with Neo-Prog, as it is categorized on this site.)

slipperman | 4/5 |


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