Architecture Of The Absurd

(Martian Sheep Records)

What a nice surprise! Here's a CD featuring creative music which sounds fresh and full of life - a combination that's quite uncommon these days -, said album coming all the way from Spain (will wonders ever cease?).

It's not only for reasons of simplicity and brevity that I am of the opinion that this album by Beluga - their first as a group - should be filed under "Zappa-related", given the fact that it's very easy to detect many affinities, both in terms of style and attitude, as we'll see in a moment. It's also possible, here and there, to find traces of Mike Keneally, which is in no way surprising, given the close relationship between Keneally and the mustachioed Maestro. There are also a few "Prog" elements, for instance odd time signatures that reminded me of Gentle Giant - there's also something that to me sounds like an accurate "simulation" of Kerry Minnear's Hammond organ complete with Leslie and vibrato. I also appeared to detect a strong influence of "Black Music" when it comes to vocals - voices being one of the key ingredients here - and of course one has to be reminded of Zappa's front line featuring Ray White and Ike Willis. But I believe that thinking about world-famous hits like One Nation Under A Groove by Funkadelic is definitely not an exaggeration.

If we have a look at what is the "list of ingredients" proper, we see that Architecture Of The Absurd is the fruit of the efforts of two musicians - Razl, on guitars and vocals (lots of them); and Lorenzo Matellán, on keyboards and synths - whom I assume to be in their late thirties. Both composed and arranged the music. Also the lyrics, with the help of Carolina Mateo.

The album was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Lorenzo Matellán at Headroom Studio. I'll immediately say that from a technical point of view the album is quite brilliant, all sound layers being quite detailed and easy to perceive: guitars, vocals, keyboards, a rhythm section that's "heavy" but never "in the way" and which is masterfully displayed in the stereo spread. I think that the Hammond is not "a real one" - maybe a poly synth by Clavia? - while to me those filter modulations sound as coming from a real Moog.

When it comes to vocals, as a point of reference I'll mention the Zappa album titled You Are What You Is, featuring brief songs that are vocally quite dense. Here and there, I was reminded of albums which highlight the instrumental side, such as Roxy & Elsewhere and One Size Fits All - I thought that at times a few bass parts were quite similar in feel to what Tom Fowler played on the aforementioned albums.

Seven tracks for a total length of 42', it's possible - and quite fun - to listen to this album as a whole. Maybe, on first listening, the music will sound a bit too dense and relentless - there's a moment where the cumulative listening effort could bring the listener dangerously close to sensory overload, but as we'll see in a moment this particular danger was averted by a clever arranging solution - but I think this to be due to one's infrequent exposure to complex music in the "rock - vocal" dept., not to any "faulty engineering" work on the part of these guys.

The time has come to talk about the rhythm section, with a splendid teamwork of Damian Erskine on electric bass and Marco Minnemann on drums. Though Erskine is a famous musician who's held in high esteem, I have to admit this is the first time I've listened to him. His work here is simply superb, with a masterful touch - just check the "release" of the notes - which goes hand-in-hand with a prodigious versatility. Minnemann I know quite well, and I'd say that, more than in the past, here he sounds quite influenced by those figures played by Chad Wackerman in his Zappa days.

I'll say it loud and clear: Without Erskine and Minnemann this album could not be what it is. But it's also true that this album made it possible for Minnemann to play at his best, avoiding the empty "bravura" virtuosity that always awaits drummers in those "Fusion"-related sessions, also the "generic" recipes that are encouraged by those "Prog summaries" like the ones narrated by Steven Wilson.

This album is played by a rock group that avoids any longueurs, all solos being quite brief.

Graphics being nothing to shout about, all lyrics are included - they're quite understandable, I'd say, though they are open to interpretation.

Photosynthesis has a spoken intro - funny thing, vocals here reminded me of Ray Manzarek's spoken parts in his solo album The Golden Scarab - then there's a "Prog"-flavoured instrumental section, enter the vocals, then there's a "funky" mid-tempo, moderato, not too far from Frank Zappa on such albums as Roxy & Elsewhere. Fine "Hammond" plus electric guitar played arpeggio, excellent bass and drums. There's an instrumental interlude ŕ la Inca Roads, a fine guitar solo.

Paris Ragtime has a funny introduction, then a group sounding halfway between Mike Keneally and Gentle Giant. Very user-friendly chorus. Fine vocals, "Hammond" played vibrato, more than a pinch of "Zappa" vocals, then a fine timbral mix of keyboards and vocals. Fine drums, then it's time for a brief, vivacious guitar solo. Clever mix of vocals/"Hammond".

Trying To Be A Court Clown opens - "la la la" - with a jokey-sounding motif, then a "spoken" "Zappa" part. "Hammond" ŕ la Gentle Giant, "up-tempo" verses, a chorus that reminded me a bit of Mike Keneally. Mid-tempo interlude. There's a repetitive, obsessive, part, followed by an instrumental "jig"-flavoured intermezzo in a odd-time signature sounding halfway between Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull circa Thick As A Brick, highlighting bass, and "Hammond". Again, nice keyboard work.

Under A Black Cloud has an instrumental palette ŕ la Roxy & Elsewhere/One Size Fits All. Treated vocals, quite paranoid-sounding, excellent bass. Interlude for "vibraphone/marimba", new sung section, fine guitar solo, "Minimoog". There's a long sinister vocal part, then a second guitar solo.

Thylacine: riff, melody, keyboards, all very sinister-sounding (as per the song title?), very "monster movie". I appeared to detect a "Minimoog + Mellotron" coupling. Choral voices, bass, propulsive ride/hi-hat. Sing-along, a brief "Prog"-flavoured guitar solo. This is the point I talked about earlier, where I think impatient listeners could risk "sensory overload", so... here we have an instrumental section sounding not too far from "circus music" as a change of pace, lotsa keyboards, a clever arranging solution.

Monologue has vocals and laughs, as per the song "theme". Instrumental intro, then mid-tempo with "backward tapes". Fine hi-hat figure, fine tom passages. Tempo becomes steady, and after a long instrumental intro that gives listeners time to breath, here come the vocals, with a captivating, swing-flavoured, chorus. There's a fine, melodic, phrase on guitar, coupled with a filter modulation on a Minimoog. There's a fine "Prog" coda with "Hammond", and an excellent bass part.

Sunny View (For Douche-Bags) has a "ring-modulated" intro, a fast ride cymbal, enter the bass. There's a "jazzy" mid-tempo, stacked R'n'B-flavoured vocals. In closing, a "Fender Rhodes" (a real one?) through a "ring modulator".

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2014 | Jan. 26, 2014