Thursday, July 16, 2015

Album Review: Barock Project - Skyline

Symphonic prog has taken a hard hit in modern times. Sure, Yes is still out there touring and making records, and bands like Transatlantic and The Flower Kings are carrying the flag, but by and large the people have moved on to other, newer, sounds. That's sad, not because I lament the passing of time and abandoning something that was once treasured, but because the modern form of prog is lacking something that I think is integral to the appeal of the music; fun. The music that symphonic prog bands make has elements of beauty and fun to it, they are songs and albums that make you actually want to listen. Modern prog has slipped into the dark, where I almost feel you need to have a slight emotional issue just to push the play button.

Barock Project is a symphonic band in the old tradition. Their brand of prog is warm and inviting, a style that could easily be called 'sunny day' music. And since I am writing this review while ample amounts of sunshine pour through the window, it's all too appropriate.

"Gold" opens the album with a shot acapella vocal section, before the song gets going with traditionally dense prog musicianship, filled with pulsing bass-lines, and instruments that pop in and out with reckless abandon. Pianos give way to organs, as acoustic guitars chime in for a few bars here and there. It's the type of composition that can get out of hand if you aren't careful, but there is a smooth melody from the vocals that ties it all together. I can certainly hear the baroque style the band's name implies in the guitar solo, but even that doesn't last long before horns come in and introduce the third section of the eight minute track. There's a lot going on for that amount of time.

The instrumental "Overture", somewhat confusingly, doesn't open the record, but follows with a progressive workout and a flurry of notes and ideas. The title track builds upon that with the first ten minute outing of the record, a folky song that spends its first four minutes as an acoustic story ballad, before the rest of the band chimes in and turns the song into a traditional rocker. Myself, I could do without the heavy dose of cowbell that runs through that section, but I love the folk flavor, even if I think the song needs a stronger set of melodies.

"Roadkill" is the heaviest number so far, and brings a bigger influence of arena rock into the proceedings, although I don't mean to say it sounds anything like a bad hair metal band. What I'm trying to say is that there's a definite intention to make the vocal section in the middle of the song soar above the rest. It's a bit of a shame that the song doesn't bring it back after the flute solo, because having a few more quality hooks that repeat would go a long way to making the music more memorable for listeners.

Unfortunately, that is the record's biggest flaw. There are aspects of the album that are stunning; the sound is rich and lush, the instrumentals have tons of clever ideas and motifs, and the vocals are capable of being beautiful. But while there is all the potential in the world here, there is a lack of memorable songwriting. Every song adheres so strongly to the progressive ethos that they rarely deviate from the straight line of one new idea after the other. We aren't given the chance to have great moments repeat, to look forward to hearing those big flourishes again before the next idea comes along.

I understand that progressive music is supposed to be unconventional, and is supposed to embrace a more compositional style akin to classical music, but I can't help but say I was longing for a bit more of a traditional structure to underpin some of these songs. I appreciate the tangents the band goes on, and some of the instrumental parts are wonderful, but they feel incomplete without a larger framework to have them make sense. But maybe that's just me.

Overall, "Skyline" is an album that shows immense talent, and plenty of possibility. For me, however, it's also an album that misses out on its potential by, of all things, being too good at what it aims to be. It's certainly well-written, well-played, and a fabulous sounding record. But it's not something that is going to draw me back to listen to it again and again, because it's almost too progressive for anyone who isn't dedicated to that style of music. "Skyline" is worth hearing, but I don't think it will become essential.

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