bITS 'N CHUNKS
Well, Haken graced us with a new album this year - something I meant to talk about well before the concert I attended back in November, but well. Perhaps my life is a shambles.
I've seen a lot of descriptions of this album as "djent" but at this point I feel like that term is so far removed from its origins (it's basically an early metal meme to describe something as Meshuggah-esque) that it doesn't have a ton of pull for me anymore. It definitely doesn't describe too much outside of a very niche part of the progressive community overall.
So, what does this album sound like? Well... to me I'd say late period The Mars Volta, thematically and musically. There's probably far less saxophone but especially with the guitar texture and landscapes, it's there.
Haken has always sounded a little retro to me, but here their signature sound is best on display with single "The Good Doctor" and from there it gets... well, different. Let's talk about it, though. Why does prog rock like the Crazy tropes so much?
Well, humanity is complex, from our social interactions to our individual motivations, and nothing encapsulates that better than the mysteries of the human brain. Perfect for a subgenre that itself is complex and often concerned with cerebral things. It's a personal topic for me as someone coping with mental illness however successfully or unsuccessful, and I suppose that's at least part of the reason I am drawn to prog. The feeling that I don't have to pretend to care about mundane topics like boys, girls, money, or politics.
I feel like prog is at it's best when it's prohibitively complex and boy does prog enjoy talking about "craziness". The only thing more interesting than the human brain functioning is when it ceases to function normally and all sorts of nightmares commence. It can be a little navel gaze (see Mars Volta again) or it can be expansive and humanizing (late period Rush). For Haken, mental wellness -- or rather, unwellness -- makes a thrilling topic and an overreaching story line. But one that veers on a little... corny for them.
Let's talk about that for a second because I don't mean the version of corny that equals wack or cringe. I'm talking about something that has the whiff of regular. A twice told tale coming in for a third time. Why now? Because it's a popular trope of the genre so we have to?
The true concept of Vector is mysterious, but it can be surmised that a lot of song elements are meant to connect back to previous albums. It's heavily hinted that "The Good Doctor" is a direct sequel to the infectious "The Cockroach King"; if that's the case, then Vector surely reveals who the cockroach king and his victims truly are, right?
Rather, it's hard to say. There could be role reversal at play, so not a straightforward example at all. Maybe we've even been reading things wrong the whole time. Once we get deeper into the album, things take a turn for Cuckoo's Nest and we explore more of what's going on in this person's psyche. By the time we hit "Puzzle Box" and "Veil", it's established that we ain't getting any clear cut answers this week.
That's a tough pill to go down, but that sort of obsession and nerdery is a commodity in this community.
So, is it good? Yes. It's more likely to clear your skin than clear anything else up. The best Haken album? Not really. At 44 minutes and 7 songs, there was room for a little extra here without dropping into excess. The songs are great but thematically it just feels like we're going through the motions of doing it just to do it. There's better ways to go about this and I'm confident Haken will in the future, this one's just a compromise...
Gang, it's time for concert season once again!
... Except I've already been to all the shows I'm tryna go to this year with the exception of a potential new year's eve bash. My Shows About Town feature is pretty consistent, but for the latter half of this year I've (to be blunt) had my shit rocked repeatedly by the ups and downs of life and depression. So I haven't felt like it!
So, rather than a thorough concert review, here's a speed run of the two biggest shows I hit up in good ol' Music City.
Here we are again with another jam. My fascination with Porcupine Tree would best be explained with my fascination with the progressive genre in general. To be blunt, progressive rock & metal is made for writing. It's populated with speculative fiction dorks. I mean, look at Rush. Look at Yes. Math geeks writing songs about Lord of the Rings.
Don't get me wrong, metal in general does that as well (especially when you start getting in the Dio realms) but with prog it's...different. Every ounce of the music from vocals to drum beats is contributing towards the theme of the song. It's complex because it can be. Someone is trying to tell you a story. Porcupine Tree breaks off this a little by being a lot more personal and introverted. When someone asks me about them, I call it good time depression music because it IS. Songs about isolation and misery. Hey, I write about alienation and misery! Yes, "Way Out of Here" has made my soul cry and hurried me along on several stories. One of my first long form non-fanfic stories contains a direct reference to the first verse of the song and I am not embarrassed but I will not show you (probably). Please check it out.
I encourage you to hear the full song. As for Blank Planet itself, my actual introduction to PT was In Absentia, an entire concept album about...a serial killer! Yeah. It's probably their most commercial record too. That was so odd that it sparked my imagination. Blank Planet now is probably a little dated in that it deals mostly with man's battles against technology and, to an extent, himself. That theme aside, what resonates with me about this album is its plain language. The music is there and the textures are there but the language is actually fairly blunt. It helps me not write flowery words for the sake of writing them -- it says, "get to the goddamn point, E". The swells and climax of "Anesthetize" are so damn cathartic. I hear this whole album in my head a lot. It's interesting because the brain of PT, Steve Wilson, said this album was inspired by Bret Easton Ellis. Interesting because I don't really care for Ellis to put it politely. That might be why, admittedly, some sections of this album make me cringe. Especially when Steven starts shaking his fist at the kids.
Sadly, Porcupine Tree is over but Steve Wilson is still trying to make you feel the ennui in his kind of folky solo career. Which is somehow more literary than PT. Check that out too. If you're into fables and fairy tales about death it's right up your alley.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...