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Thinking Plague - Hoping Against Hope CD (album) cover


Thinking Plague



3.76 | 92 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
5 stars Oh my gawd! This is the kind of stuff that gives me progasms! Colorado's coolest mutilators of pop melodies have once again delivered six intriguing tracks freshly collected from the meat grinder and shipped off to market. THINKING PLAGUE has been the nightmares of bubblegum pop addicts for over three decades now and continues to ratchet up the tension and complexity levels on every "whenever they get around to it" release. HOPING AGAINST HOPE is only the seventh studio album released since their debut which came out all the way back in 1984 when Madonna and Michael Jackson were ruling the world on the pop charts. Fast forward to 2017 and the sound that was established on the debut "A Thinking Plague" has kept the same formula of putting the extra helping of avant in the Rock In Opposition styled prog that takes what predecessors like Henry Cow and Art Bears began and put it all on steroids. HOPING AGAINST HOPE is one of the densest and most angular releases of the year and is guaranteed never to be played at wedding ceremonies or birthday parties for moppets.

At this point in the band's career, Mike Johnson is not only the founder but the only member to have been constant since album number one and what makes THINKING PLAGUE rise above the ranks of the ever growing list of avant-proggers out there is his unique classical and electronic music studies that have afforded him the luxury of crafting out an exquisite and decorative compositional style that actually pans out to be bona fide alternative arrangements rather than just striving to be weird for weird's sake and on HOPING FOR HOPE these talents have only grown into some of the most sophisticated and complex with a new sense of bravado. One of the sources for the more complex sounds emanating from my speakers is the addition of a second guitarist in the form of Bill Pohl which allows more colorful expressions of tangled counterpoints that take systems borrowed from the most convoluted jazz sounds and somehow sift them into a gnarled imbroglio of competing anti-melodies that avoid collision like a clever colony of ants. Phrasings, time signatures, tempos and timbres compete for dominance but ultimately cooperate to demonstrate the most alien of soundscapes possible.

Once again Elaine Di Falco joins the team on vocals with her avant-prog standard type of delivery which keeps the leash on the boys who seem like their chomping at the bit to fully blast off from the Dagmar Krause antecedents that allow some sort of logical placement of this intellectually challenging musical puzzle. The atmospheres are thick and intense like Holst's "Mars" segment on "The Planets" which warns of impending warfare of the world as the sax, clarinet, oboe and flute conspire to weave a web of startling counterpoints that inspire as much awe as a faux missile attack threat appearing on your cell phone text. Another factor that seems to have developed is a more sophisticated King Crimson sort of heavy guitar bantering which adds a major sense of heft to the established unnerving anti-melodies that ratchet up the tension and then successful bombard the ear canals with a sense of bombast on top of the sense of impending dread and apocalyptica that always hints at but never quite attains a logical resolution.

Stylistically HOPING AGAINST HOPE is very similar to previous THINKING PLAGUE works with four shorter tracks swimming amidst two bloated behemoths that extend over the ten minute mark. Also the tracks straddle around in the predictable unpredictable manner with only Di Falco's vocal trails providing some sort of thread that ties all the disparate counterpoints together, however the compositions have taken on a new sense of urgency like a village that has taken root next to a volcano about to erupt and the anxiety beckons a more vehement response. While placidity isn't unknown on HOPING AGAINST HOPE, it's the violent aftermath that sets this release apart from earlier albums and the compositions have taken on unthinkable complexities making the peregrination to a top ranking of a 10 on my personal progometer scale of complexity. While most prog bands well into their fourth decade show signs of wear and fatigue or at least complacency in their craft, Johnson and his THINKING PLAGUE seem re-energized and ready to float off to the next world without one little iota of compromise. If anything, a determination of creating the most mangled melodic complexities seems to be of a most exigent priority.

Once again THINKING PLAGUE creates another successful soundtrack for an alternative universe with cleverly crafted precision that leaves me gasping for air after the multiple series of prograsm inducing exaltation. While it's never a sure bet that Johnson and friends will ever deliver a new album filled with the usual suspects of highly-developed and subtle musical configurations, one thing is a given at this point and that is the fact that when they finally do arise from the PLAGUE cave under the cover of surreptitiousness, they are guaranteed to leave jaws gaping as they perform the avant-prog equivalent of Cirque du Soleil styled performances that always lead me to wonder how far the whole avant-prog thing can go. Apparently it's in no danger of running out of steam. This has probably reached the ranks of "In Extremis" in my book with its sheer audacity to unapologetically develop and drift in any direction seen fit. Stunning and utterly unique THINKING PLAGUE continues to dazzle as they effectively build upon what they've done before yet with the paradox of doing so in both logical and illogical manners. The only problem is that this is exhausting music but well worth the workout.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |


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