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Pokerface - Transeo CD (album) cover





3.67 | 3 ratings

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Symphonic Team
3 stars Welcome to the abyss of bleak soundscapes.

Pokerface is an avant prog jazz fusion exploration, of instrumentals led by wild percussion and some soaring sax, swathes of keyboards and distorted guitar embellishments, along with vocals at times. Stefan Heidevik is at the helm on synthesizer, programming, glockenspiel, percussion, voices, and is joined by session musos Olle Prim on drums, Mattis Karlsson on guitar, Per Eriksson on saxophone, clarinet, Bryan Baker on guitar, Anna Sahlin on cello, Karin Svensson Nordberg on violin, and Mike Lloyd on trumpet, with some guest vocalists. The album begins with a number of instrumentals that flash by quite fast, with a strong jazzy serrated edge and some avant textures thrown in that are dissonant on the ear, especially with the irregular percussive rhythms;Prim is a master on drums in the same territory as Christian Vander's style. The first outstanding track is 'Beginnings and Endings' that is a stunning dissonant odd blend of fusion and weird percussion, with a haunting keyboard melody, and many time sig changes. The avant prog approach is more prominent and made me take notice after the loud jazzy explorations previous.

Prim's percussion on 'Quicksand/ Concrete' is sporadic and blasts off before the tune settles into a chiming sequenced melody, sounding a lot like Kraftwerk's 'Home Computer', a reference that was pleasing to my ear. Eriksson's sax on this is fabulous, exploring an improvised approach, and layered nicely over all the percussion and keyboard foundation. It is a live track and for me perhaps the band sounds better unconfined to studio trickery. I like the way the band take off and just go for it both barrels blazing, and not adhering to musical barriers that stifle creativity. The vibe is reminiscent of the most exploratory moods of King Crimson in these passages. 'Like Love' is also live and again a standout track as the band move from a distorted guitar, to fading atmospheric drones and odd metered drum rhythms. The melody on keys locks in as a very disconcerting sound wails over. This is quite a dark sound, not like love one might say, they are at polar opposites, though the band seem to be concerned with creating a mood or feelings rather than a coherent story. Without vocals it is left to the listener to ascertain what they can glean out of the music.

An assemble of live tracks follow with 'Miss You' and an industrial NIN percussive figure cranks, as sustained key pads spread a layer for spacey guitar glissando to improvise over. In some ways this has a space rock vibe, especially the opening section. The rhythms are wonderful, like Gary Numan's "Dead Son Rising" album. The mechanised metronomics are joined this time by some vocals, that really give this a new atmosphere. The echo on the vox is spacey and the feel is still downbeat and melancholy as the lyrics portray loss and emptiness.

More industrial percussion follows on the live 'Really Real Reality', like a mechanised factory, and the vocals sound like Arthur Brown's 'Great Spontaneous Apple Creation'. The spoken vocals augment the bizarreness inherent in the dissonant musical landscape. This even sounds as weird as Zappa in his most outrageous mood. I liked the way this jumps out as such a different approach on this album.

Next up is the live 'For Those Who Have Fallen', and it has a sadness with tortured vocals wailing over a very ambient keyboard. Distorted guitars crash over with a cool riff that locks in well. The vox again have a spacey quality, very downbeat but haunting and resonating with those who know what it is like to be depressed or feel like their world is falling apart. Music can convey the most powerful of desolate emotions and it doesn't get too much bleaker than this.

'Spider', an appropriate title, has a trip hop techno sequenced rhythm and some sporadic melodies thrown like curveballs bouncing off the chunky guitar riffs. Eventually a lead guitar solos intertwining like a spider spinning a web within odd time sigs. It feels like two different songs are playing as the lead solo spirals wildly in a web of chaos. It is some of the best guitar on this album and is completely improvisationary, building nicely into spacey shades. The keyboard retro synth sounds are akin to the 80s, yet the sound is so disjointed and off kilter that it is a definite modern avant sound.

'Ending' is not a song I recommend as it is caterwauling over a dark bassline, and then moves into guitar with weird notes played. Too disturbing for me, and not enough musicianship to appease my ears. However it is followed by a squelching saxophone improv on 'Stagger', and this is more appealing, especially the jazz fusion elements, though again it has a sinister atmosphere, something like the music played by The Residents, though I like their sound. The weird sonic transmissions are very disconcerting, and this again is one of the darker instrumentals.

This sort of music is perhaps best heard in short spurts as ideas can become stale after a few minutes, but the next few tracks clock to over 7 minutes, such as 'Red Room First', a very creepy screechy sonic effect that is more Krautrock than others I have heard on the album. It has the sonic high pitched violence of Univers Zero, and the grinding buildup of Can or Faust. The piece is devoid of any rhythm and is the type of noise avant heard on extreme noise albums; sounding like the in between feedback when searching for a radio station. I am no fan of the noise genre, and this drones on for too long, but as this is a one off it holds interest, and at least has variation. It would make an appropriate soundtrack to a chilling movie such as "The Ring".

It is followed by the welcome relief of rhythms, some Swedish spoken vocals, a melody, and yet a consistent RIO approach. 'Born to Murder the World' is short, but 'Morning Storm' runs for over 7 minutes. It is a high frequency sound that explodes out of the speakers and then is joined by off kilter mechanised percussion. This is way out of the box, and somehow captivates with the irregularity of the tempo, and the constant sustained pads. To end, 'Nanah Dudeh' is a quirky thing with electronic explorations improvised over high pitched feedback loops, or some other electro sound. Again this is in the extreme avant territory, and sounds more like noise

This is an intense album with daring, inventiveness and will appeal to RIO/ avant prog listeners. It is too extreme for those who like to hear a song or melody to brighten their day as there is none on offer here. The experience is rather downbeat and bleak. The Residents meets Toby Driver in some sections, and the Musique Concrete, Kraut art Jazz fusion influences are evident. It tends to get more bold and bizarre towards the end of the album, though has moments of headache inducing sonic feedback. It feels like going on a journey into the abyss and by the end we are in the abyss and can't escape. The bonus tracks may test many listeners patience. It is disturbing music and I would say not for everyone, stretching the boundaries beyond a comfortable level of resonance. I rarely listen to music like this myself, but I still like to have my ears opened now and then to expose myself to the other alternative types of music that are being created.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 3/5 |


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