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Thinking Plague - A Thinking Plague CD (album) cover

A THINKING PLAGUE

Thinking Plague

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.52 | 36 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars While the 80s are more known for the catchier commercial aspects of music such as the new wave hits of early MTV, the decade of heavy metal reaching its full maturity and tons of other styles under the sun, there were also many strange avant-garde musicians lurking around like small mammals under the feet of behemoth dinosaurs in the Cretaceous that while barely noticed and even less appreciated managed to buck the trend and evolve their own brand of bizarre and complex music in a feisty DIY ethic. In the process of this musical rebellion they literally defied every musical trend of the day.

The Denver, Colorado based THINKING PLAGUE was one of these strange new musical entities to emerge in 1982 after founders Mike Johnson and Bob Drake met back in 78 in various cover bands. Their appetites for the experimental found them creating new musical Frankensteins in the form of basement recordings and their eclectic palettes also found them taking the errant ethos of punk with the musical disregard of no wave and married them to the avant-garde angularity of 70s Rock In Opposition bands from such progressive bands like Henry Cow and Art Bears.

After recruiting several new members such as the classically trained vocalist Sharon Bradford, keyboardist Harry Fleishman and percussionist Rick Arsaenault, Johnson (guitar, piano, vocals) and Drake (bass, percussion, guitar, balalaika, keys) began to concoct their own brand of avant-garde prog and offer the public a taste with a few live performances. Predictably the band found little tolerance for the bold intellectual complexities of their style and they instead commenced on to forge some new tracks for their debut album.

Bradford, Fleishman and Fuller were the primary players and recorded several tracks on a primitive 8-track in the basement of an old slaughterhouse that they penned Packing House Studios. After a year of refining their bizarre mix of Zappa inspired orchestral arrangements laced with collage techniques that liberally mixed aspects of folk, jazz, classical and rock, the band emerged in 1984 with their debut album A THINKING PLAGUE on their independent Endemic label. The album was limited to only 500 vinyl LPs with each cover created by Drake depicting a flea done by stencil and spray paint. While clearly existing at the lowest dredges of the underground, THINKING PLAGUE found a few interested distributors including Recommended Records and Cuneiform.

While not exactly finding their music on MTV or college radio stations, the avant-garde and prog critics were impressed. While THINKING PLAGUE have over the years become one of avant-prog's most demanding and consistent musical experiences, the debut is quite unique in their canon. The overall trend of an album consisting of a few short tracks and a select few extremely lengthy multi-themed prog suits had already developed on A THINKING PLAGUE with the fifteen minute closer 'Thorns Of Blue And Red / The War' setting the stage for the more complex albums to follow.

Album number 1 displays the origins of the band's idiosyncrasies with not only the expected prog from the Henry Cow and family camp but also surprisingly displays contemporary influences ranging from the more pop hook world of new wave as well as the alternative rock universe. While clearly displaying elements of the classic THINKING PLAGUE sound, tracks like the opening 'I Do Not Live' and 'The Taste That Lingers On' are downright catchy in comparison and sound closer to quirky bands such as Family Fodder or even the Cardiacs with more rhythmic grooves and a straight forwardness that eschews the nebulous angularity of the longer tracks. But make no mistake, amongst theses catchy grooves emerge ethereal angular vocal outbursts, freaked out instrumental noodling as well as other weirdness.

A THINKING PLAGUE was released once in 1984 on vinyl and then never again which has made this one pretty much a true obscurity until Mike Johnson found the master tapes for the first two albums many years later (they had been presumed lost). While there has never been an official re-pressing of this debut, the album was remastered along with 'Moonsongs' and released as the compilation 'Early Plague Years' in its entirety. While many complex bands require several albums to warm up to get their groove on, THINKING PLAGUE scored with their very first release. While not as over the top complex as albums like 'In Extremis,' this one works quite well in its own context with its quirky more accessible charm, with 'accessible' in terms of THINKING PLAGUE's later years. This would've obviously gone over the heads of the average person of the day but an essential addition for fans. Brilliant debut.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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