Thursday, July 23, 2015
Album Review: Kinetic Element - Travelog
The thing about progressive music that often gets overlooked is that it can often be too much of a good thing. There is certainly a time and a place for twenty minute epics that transport you to new musical worlds. That is the very nature of progressive music, to shatter your expectations and make you see things in a different way. But a lot of prog doesn't do this, because it adheres to a rigid set of rules. Prog today needs to be built from the sound of one of the forefathers of the genre, it needs to be expansive, and it certainly needs epic tracks all over the place. Kinetic Element is following that path, producing "Travelog", a seventy minute album where the shortest track still nears the ten minute mark.
That 'short' song is the title track, which follows the twenty minute epic opener. "Travelog" is a song that brings to mind early Genesis, with soft guitars plucking away, flute interludes, and a laid-back atmosphere that doesn't do the running time many favors. It's pleasant enough music, but between the pacing and the flat vocals and melodies, the song just don't really go anywhere, despite having ample time to develop into something more than it is.
Backtracking to the aforementioned epic, "War Song" opens the album with ambition, spending twenty minutes playing what should have been a five minute song. For the length, I would have expected multiple sections that moved the song in new directions, but instead it's a single melodic composition stretched out with massively extended instrumental passages. Those passages are the best parts of the song, given the lackluster vocal parts, but they do get to be a bit much for my tastes. I appreciate the organs that come in towards the end, but by then my attention has lapsed, and I'm ready to move on.
"Vision Of A New Dawn" has the same construction, and again is missing something because of it. It's not that they're bad tracks, it's just that they don't offer enough throughout the entirety of their lengths to keep the listener engaged. Great prog is able to run through the instrumental flourishes, but always return to the core of the song. That's what's missing here. The vocals and the melodies just aren't strong enough to justify the time between them.
There is certainly promise in the instrumentals here. The playing is all quite good, and there are sections, especially those when pianos and organs take the stage, that have some really good ideas. I don't say this often, as I'm not a fan of instrumental music, but this album would have been better off without vocalists, if someone could not have been found to write better vocal lines. As it stands, the vocals drag down all of these songs, both through the inability to craft a memorable chorus, and their lack of power and finesse.
"Travelog" is one of those albums that is hard to criticize, because I know the people who made the record did it out of love for the music. I can hear that, and I can see what they wanted to do, but it just doesn't hit the mark. Every genre has a margin for error, but the massive scope of the music makes prog's much smaller. This isn't terribly far off target, but it's enough to make this a bit disappointing.