Mondo Drag felt the need to relocate. Following their release last year, the band left the endless, undulating sea of corn fields in Iowa for the dramatically different culture of Oakland, all in an effort to expose themselves (not like that) to a greater variety of musical attenuation. The result of this holy pilgrimage is “The Occultation of Light,” a perfectly retro rendering of progressive rock as it existed in the heady days of King Crimson and Yes.
And that DNA roots down to the marrow of Mondo Drag, high flying synths and meandering guitars abound, all layered over and over again in rich harmony to weave an ornate web of aural opulence, washing the listener in an oceanic ebb and flow of carefully planned musical themes. The band isn’t so obsessed with fooling or impressing the listener with obscure time signatures or production trickery, but instead wants to create an immersive experience. “In Your Head (Part I & II)” begins its life with a flourish of feathering, each instrument working in concert with those around it, eventually pacing out into a clean recitation of more dull (by comparison) tones, the song wending its way to conclusion.
That’s where the patterns between traditional prog and Mondo Drag diverge; Mondo Drag is more concerned with setting a mood than the typical synth-heavy prog affair. If there is such a thing as doom-prog, then Mondo Drag would fit that epithet perfectly, preferring to let the muted colors of their musical flower bloom slowly over the course of a dewey morning than in a blinding flash of radiant iridescence. The opening trill of album starter “Dying Light” belies the slow burn that resides within. The song settles into a slow jam and only occasionally emerges out of it for effect, as this piece rises up into a throwback jam outro that reminds ever so subtly of the soundtrack of a b-grade cop movie in the middle 1970s.
The result of the band taking their time to allow the music its due course is occasionally a double-edged sword. There are spans of time on the record where nothing notable is really happening, a trait that unfortunately mars the last act somewhat. “Rising Omen” is an ambient piece that the average fan may likely skip, as it doesn’t really capture the attention of imagination, and even in listening to the full length of “The Occultation of Light” doesn’t really tell an important part of the story. This trend continues into the opening half of the album’s closer “The Eye” which improves dramatically in pace and impact by its conclusion, but does stumble some in that it lacks a certain urgency that would have sewn up the album’s journey with a satisfying end. (Now, there is an argument to be made that the end of “The Eye” tails nicely into the open of “Dying Light,” thus turning the album into a fulfilling round if listening to the tracks on repeat, but that seems a very specific set of circumstances.)
So to that end, where the album succeeds best is actually in the shorter selections in the middle, where the band can crank through one idea and continues their album-long smart decision to not force lyrics where they aren’t needed. There’s nothing wrong with John Gamino’s voice, it’s just that this type of music doesn’t necessarily need a lot of direction for the listener – each individual should be able to conjure his or her own mental image of what’s going on. Anyway, “Out of Sight” and “Ride the Sky” are where the album shows the most spark, completing one great cycle and concluding the piece, all wrapped up in excellent execution and expressive playing.
“The Occultation of Light” is a well done retro prog record from a band who has often dabbled in heavily psychedelic music, so it’s fair to conclude that Mondo Drag has found an effective niche for themselves. Prog purists will appreciate the slant in their favor and the incorporation of many hallmarks of their chosen genre, while psych fans will still find value in the album’s deliberate (occasionally too deliberate) pacing. Laid out, this is a fine effort for Mondo Drag, and perhaps the start of great things to come for them.