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Astrid Pröll - Astrid Pröll CD (album) cover

ASTRID PRÖLL

Astrid Pröll

 

Eclectic Prog

3.79 | 10 ratings

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VanderGraafKommandöh
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Astrid Pröll are from Puerto Rico, which isn't exactly the music capital of the world, but with this release, which is their debut, self-titled album, you wouldn't think Puerto Rico's music scene was mainly confined to its own country. The band consists of musicians who have been playing music in Puerto Rico for the past 10 or more years, so I believe this helps the album sound as mature as it does. They have many influences, as is evident from this album, some of which are bands from the Canterbury Scene (jazz-fusion based music), the Post-Rock scene and even from the Chamber Rock and Avant-prog scene. However, one of the main influences I can hear in their music, is King Crimson (also an influence on many chamber rock bands), yet by no means does this mean they're a clone, far from it, infact. This album has lashings of smart progressive rock music, but with no clichéd elements that are often evident in that particular genre. The album is also not dated or retro, even with the clear influences they incorporate into their sound and is actually a breath of fresh air to the music world, in my opinion. The musicianship from Georgie Castro-Ramirez, Agustín "Chito" Criollo, Andrés Lugo and Fernando Rosado is excellent as well and they certainly do not make this sound like this is their debut album.

Now to the music itself:

Sounding slightly Egyptian in nature, the opening track "Pröll 1" starts off slowly, yet it rumbles and rumbles, until the relentlessness of it breaks free and the aural soundscape starts to explode, as the bass flickers in the background, followed by the irratic drumming... Then the explosion occurs... whoosh! A superb guitar attack, intense drumming, yet still with a relentless air to it. It slows down once more and then we hear Allen Ginsberg reading excerpts from his poem "The Howl", in the background. There's still a slight middle-eastern feel to the soundscape, when suddenly, once more, there is a sound explosion and the heavyness begins again... followed by a wonderfully distorted guitar solo. You can feel the desperation in this track and it feels somewhat politically surged. What a wonderful way to begin this wonderful album!

Next up is "Catástrofe", which is a much more straight up rocker, but still wonderful. The track is dominated by two guitars, one playing simple two-chord changes (to begin with), whilst the other one does a similar thing, but much heavier. Of course, this track is far from being simple and has a wonderful solo in the middle, played by Georgie and what a great solo it is! The drumming is relentless and the sound is mixed perfectly. I also really like the incidental sounds that are played occasionally between guitar parts and they really add to the track.

Next up is the "single" of the album, "Perro Negro". It's still not what I'd class as a typical single, as it incorporates some great guitar playing once more. Agustín sings on this track and to my ears, he sounds like David Grohl, which isn't a bad thing! Of course, he sings in Spanish, but that isn't too much of a distraction. There is a very special duel guitar solo in the middle, which counter off each other rather nicely. The track is rather catchy and deserves to be the first single from the album.

Next up is "Disidente", which continues on with similar rhythm guitar as the previous two tracks, yet is a different sounding track to the previous two, still heavy, but more progressive sounding with some funky sounds taking over in the background in the middle section. This track kind of reminds me of Robert Fripp's earlier days in King Crimson in places. Once more the two guitars have a distinctive sound and the bass is more prominent than it has been previously. Yet again the drumming is spot on, it's not over-the-top and does not get in the way of the rest of the music and keeps the rhythm of the track going. The track ends with a fade-out and leads into the gentler part of the album...

"Orígenes del Movimiento" really slows down the pace of the album and is another wonderful soundscape, but this time more electronic sounding. The ambient soundscape is still however somewhat desperate sounding and I still feel somewhat uneasy, especially as the track gets louder and more domineering as it goes. The track flows nicely into an even more relaxed track "Resistencia", which is a post-rock sounding track, with lovely ethereal guitar playing over some peaceful electronic sounds, that remind me of being at the beach. I feel waves crashing and they're getting stronger and once again, the peacefulness of the track is somewhat shattered, but I personally like darker music, so this is pleasant to my ears. A marching drum sound takes over, yet the guitar playing continues, whilst the bass meanders in the background, until a heavier guitar sound comes in, yet it's still in a somewhat peaceful vein, but with increased energy and vigour. The track ends as it began, with the peaceful air to it and flows into the darkest track on the album...

"88MHz". This is a 14 minute epic of very dark proportions and that dark sound never holds up once. This is an avant-garde track in the vein of Univers Zero, or Present and it works perfectly. However, due to the nature of the track, I find it difficult to comment about, but I can say that it's somewhat in 3 parts, with the middle section being amazingly dark. The sax playing reminds me of Gary Windo on Robert Wyatt's "Rock Bottom" and I am not disappointed one bit. I love this style of sax playing and Georgie does an amazing job at capturing the finer nuances of despair that this track portrays. Infact, I would describe Georgie's Sax playing as sounding like an Exocet missile has been let off in Puerto Rico and everyone is running away from it, that's how scary it sounds! This track has everything, it's the most perfect track on the album in my opinion. As like the other tracks, you will hear, that rather than the bass dominating, a simple guitar riff does instead, it's something that Astrid Pröll make their own. The bass does however take over later on in the track, to cut yet more atmospheric genius into the mix. Another part of this track that makes it feel like I am in agony, is the very low mixed voice in the background. The person (Ariel Hernandez) is not saying anything in particular, but it's used as a device to add atmosphere. Very good stuff! This is Astrid Proll's "Starless", a wonderfully compelling and exciting track from start to finish.

You really need to hear this track for yourself, as my words simply do not do it justice.

"Pröll 2" is another track with vocals (only one of two on the album) and is a let-off of steam after 88MHz's incendiary outrageousness. However, the track is still heavy and still packs a punch. The electronic moments in this track remind me slightly of Muse and again, they work perfectly with the overall sound of the track. The guitar solo in the middle is so great, it's a highlight of the track and the bass coming back in... great stuff! The synth is also used to masterly affect, they certainly know how to compose great music!

"Torso"... oh what a track! This is one of my personal favourites on the album. This is heavily King Crimsonified and sounds like a long-lost outtake from "Red" or "Starless and Bible Black"! I swear that's Robert Fripp playing, but I've been informed it's Georgie! The drumming is worth a mention here, as it's the fastest playing on the album and Fernando does a great job in keeping the pace, an outstanding drummer indeed. And hear comes Ian McDonald! Oh, well, it's not Ian McDonald, it's Georgie again! His sax playing is phenomenal! As for the lovely squonky bass, I happen to personally love this sound and it reminds me of... surprise surprise, John Wetton! The moment that bass kicks in after the sax finishes, is pure ecstasy to my ears.

The album ends on an exceptional high: "Laboratorio Grotowsky". A track modelled on the Poor Theatre philosophy, whereby no gimmicks are used, so it's pretty much a "live" track with few - if any - overdubs. To my ears, this is Robert Fripp playing in Soft Machine! Hard to imagine isn't it? Well this is what this is! The Frippian guitar lines, the Ian McDonald/Elton Dean style sax playing (actually not Georgie this time, but Milton Barreto) with a hint of that man Windo again, makes for a wonderful track. The band sample the words of Bobby Seale, read by a member of the Black Panthers Party, which is used to represent the oppression that takes place in the United States. They do not overuse this sample either, they know exactly when to cut it off and again, when to re-use it and it's not overkill to me, it works perfectly.

Overall, this album is exciting from start to finish and incorporates many different influences, from post rock and punk, to chamber rock and avant-prog. They manage to fit it all in! The only real issue I have, but which is a very minor gripe, is "Perro Negro". It's a great track and it has been stuck in my brain a lot, but in the whole nature of the album, I feel it's a slight disappointment, but not a huge one. I understand the need for an up and coming band to try and appeal to an audience, so therefore, I do not take anything away from their integrity. The album all together is an emotionally charged one, from the politically fuelled opener, to the anti-oppression closing track and this is one of the many reasons why I personally love this album. The music tells me the musicians' anger at the world, mainly without words and that is a hard feat to pull off, in my opinion. I don't think a British artist or band could have made this album, due to the aforesaid reason. The one final point I would like to make, is that the track order has been chosen perfectly and I cannot see it working any other way. The band seem to have grouped the similar tracks together, which helps me experience the mood changes I encounter at the same time, rather than making me go on an unpleasant and sickly journey. It's a kind of semi-concept album of sorts, due to this track order.

So in conclusion I thoroughly recommend this album to anyone who loves music, especially those that are familiar with some of the genres I mentioned in my synopsis of this album above. It is smart music and exceptionally well played and they seem to know their audience as well. I look forward to hearing more of their material in the future and I sincerely hope they get to tour England one day, as I know they will be a tour de force when performing live. An exceptional band and an exceptional album and from the last place you would expect as well. A very good debut indeed. What more could you ask for?

4.5/5 for me, this one!

VanderGraafKommandöh | 4/5 |

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