Style : Progressive rock with strong fusion influences
Rating : 3.5 / 5
Summary : Song-oriented prog with strong musicianship, heavy on the vocals
The Friday night pre-show at NEARfest 2004 was over at 9:30, and there was another, unofficial concert in the area that night. But thanks to the combination of roadworks, poorly marked street signs and Mapquest's notorious directions, few people found their way to the Land Of Chocolate.
The Sterling Hotel was a fitting venue for the launch of Regaining The Feel because it's geographically close to Land Of Chocolate's roots, and it was interesting to hear how the band had grown since the relocating to the Carolinas and almost completely re-staffing its lineup. It was first formed in Philadelphia by John (ex-Finneus Gauge) Buzby - originally a drummer but now re-invented as a singer and keyboard player. After their first CD it was broken up and re-formed in North Carolina, and for Regaining The Feel it comprises Buzby, John Covach on guitar and vocals, Gerald Wilson on bass and vocals, and Wes Hare on drums. The new band is very tight and it's easy to hear how the members complement one another - musically and otherwise. That night in Allentown, you couldn't help noticing how John Covach's relaxed delivery seemed to be a natural foil for Buzby's intensity.
Most people will agree that the best track on the album is "Mechanical Pencil", a purely instrumental piece which showcases this quartet's intelligent fusion-oriented musicianship. Listen to the acoustic guitar interchanging passages with the lead guitar, the heavy organ, the rich melodic tone and the underlying jazziness that drives it. The other 9 tracks are dominated by vocals with unusual dissonant harmonies, that will challenge most listeners. The singing never lets up is led by Buzby, often accompanied by Covach and Wilson in 2- and 3-part choruses. To appreciate this music you need to focus on the instrumentals behind the singing, the intricate structures the tightly managed interplay and the odd harmonic shifts, unexpected key changes and unusual time signatures. Think of a fusion-oriented modern "alternative" progressive act like IZZ, and add more than a few cues from early progressive acts like Gentle Giant.
"Military Mindset" is a bitter anti-authoritarian piece whose lyrics recall the protest music of the '60s and '70s. It is based on an imaginative riff and complicated vocal parts and the insertion of an angry drill sergeant addressing his troops at boot camp. "Red Pill" is a strong piece featuring a rich organ sound and some Hacket-like guitar lines. It is a slower-moving piece with strong build-up and retreat characteristics, and ends on a dark, tense tone. "Ungrateful" has a very different tone from the other tracks on the record, featuring a compelling, unusual rhythm, then it builds up to a very full sound, pulls back again ... and that is a common characteristic of so many songs. The structures feature a tantric swell and retreat, swell, and the end with a quiet tension.
Regaining The Feel is 51 minutes of complex and demanding songs running from 4 to 6 minutes each, and will require your close attention and many listens before it sinks in. For the few of us who made it to the Sterling Hotel, though, it was easy.
In a nutshell, it’s a delicious white chocolate confection, lots of complexity and creamy richness to sink my teeth into. But it’s definitely not for everyone.
Jonn Buzby’s brother Chris is a founding member of Echolyn, right? The comparisons to that band are obvious and easy to make. Very complex, very “time-crazy” and harmonically challenging. Quirky and oddball to a nearly obtuse degree. Very American, in that “in your face” aggressively complex sorta way. What on EARTH was mom putting in your Ovaltine, you guys?
And then there’s the professor- John Covach, on guitar. Columnist for Progression Magazine, writer of numerous scholarly titles on prog and the nature of music in general, he was recently appointed a professorship at the University of Rochester. No fear of complexity or lack of knowledge or precedent THERE, eh? Turns out, John’s fingers are as facile on a fret-board as they are on a keyboard.
In fact, everybody in the band are just rippin’ players to a man. It’s hard to really single anybody out because they play so well as an ensemble. 3 of them sing and while it’s not as smooth as Yes or the Beach Boys, it’s has it’s own charm.
Complexity is the order of the day. Counterpoint, dynamic shifts and stumbling, herky-jerky rhythms abound. There are some harmonic changes and cadences on this album that, while I like ‘em, I suspect that they may induce nausea and vomiting in listeners less attuned to such risky songwriting. There are definitely some vocal and harmony vox sections on this that many people would say are flat or off key. You get a sense of this in the first 15 seconds of the CD on “Film at 11.” They’re probably right, technically, but most of them work for me because I’m a proghead, used to musical disorientation. Some people don’t like roller coasters either . . .
Gripes? Sure, you know me.
The recording is a little harsh and bright. The production is missing that open-ness, that sense of spatiality and scale which would give this very complex music room to breathe. The drill-sergeant dialogue from Kubrick’s “Full metal Jacket” in “Military Mindset” is hilarious and adds an extra dimension to the piece. It’s easy to over do stuff like that, but I think a few more moments like that, or a few musique concrete doodads would throw a couple pickles on the sandwich. Hope you like pickles . . .
Jonn, I think you over-reach too much with your singing. You hit your limits too frequently. Your voice is suited to softer, less strident singing. I could do with less singing overall, less wordy.
That cover’s gotta go. I mean what is that, a rumpled grey sweatshirt? Even the pic of the band in the tray would be a better choice!
Minor quibbles, I like this a lot. It’s far too complex to ever find any sort of mainstream audience, but I like the lack of compromise to try and attract one. It feels like the band made this for themselves alone. That persistence of vision, the feeling of doing it because they love it, not because they want to please everyone, all the time, can be heard in every note.
Made BY progheads FOR progheads. Others need not apply.
3.75 out of 5