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Thinking Plague - In Extremis CD (album) cover


Thinking Plague



4.27 | 193 ratings

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5 stars This is the first Thinking Plague I've heard, and it was a real shock. The compositional brilliance on display here goes way beyond the capacities of any band I've heard since Zappa and Zorn. That's to say nothing of the brilliant arrangements and production, but these elements are all so deftly intermeshed that the album leaves one stunned and overwhelmed by its perfection. The influences are very diverse, making the music nearly impossible to describe, so just a few notes on the songs.

"Dead Silence" begins with a really catchy guitar comp and Deborah Perry's sassy vocal, so one thinks it'll be a smart college rock album, an impression totally dispelled by the quick entry of a Henry Cow-like B section with manically composed clarinet lines. The whole work is imbued with radically contrasting collaged style elements like this one, which make it totally unpredictable. It's all carried through by Mike Johnson's impeccable guitar work, which never relies on gimmicks and clichés, just very solid, soulful and virtuosic playing. "Behold the Man" bears the most Henry Cow influence, especially in the angular non- tonal vocal lines, though Perry's delivery is mostly calm and clear, with only occasional Dagmar-like emoting.

"This Weird Wind" seems as another reviewer mentioned some kind of tribute to Yes, or where they may have gone continuing in the direction of Relayer (which presumably scared off too many fans with its - gasp - dissonance!). The singing even resembles Chris Squire a bit, the bass lines very much, and Johnson plays like a Steve Howe gone amok. This cut is simply thrilling in concept and execution, taking a number of normally pleasant prog clichés into very new uncomfprtable territory. The arpeggiated keyboard lines and chordal textures here are especially original. "Les Etudes d'Organism" comes on like a Crimson meets Univers Zero tour de force, with some very interesting interplay between guitar and sampler, treated clarinet lines and other indescribable sounds. It's then interrupted by some insane sounding atonal Polka rhythms and some Mr. Bungle ska with mad hockey rink organ. Sounds crazy, but it all seems to make sense when the Univers Zero rhythms return. "Maelstrom" is another vehicle for the etheric vocals of Ms. Perry, starting very mellow with acoustic guitar figures and multi-tracked, treated vocals, then quicking leading to some very complex Zappaesque melodic figures complete with toy piano accompaniement. "The Aesthete" lives up to its name as perhaps the most erudite composition of the bunch, with traces of David Willey's folk music leanings (more thgoroughly followed in Hamster Theater's brilliant "Carnival Detournement", also featuring Mike Johnson). I forgot to mention that all of this really rocks and hangs on quite catchy themes.

The final cut, "Kingdom Come" has the apocalyptic brooding atmosphere of the Art Bear's The World As It Is Today", some threatening mellotron behind intricate guitar lines, as Perry sings, "Do the Angels weep, are these raindrops tears?" The piece ends with a climactic flurry of overlayed guitar riffs, dissolving into groaning guitar that hangs like a mushroom cloud over an agonized choir.

Here is a band not content to utilize the comfortable clichés of progressive mythology, but drags them kicking and screaming into the new century. not fleeing harsh realities but facing them head on. If I had to pick a best album of the 90s, in any category, this would be it. The brilliant production must be noted as well, for with such a plethora of styles and influences, it could easily fall apart in the wrong hands, but the mix is always clear and defined, the music always occupying a very tangible space.

RoyalJelly | 5/5 |


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