Progrock Roundup: Semantic Saturation + Tiles + The Room

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Reviews by Brian McGowan

A trio of Progrock releases, all sharing the genre’s penchant for gravity defying time changes, technical brilliance and intensity of performance. But between Semantic Saturation’s Solipsistic, Open Fire from The Room, and Off The Floor from Tiles, there the similarity ends.

Semantic Saturation – Solipsistic

Semantic Saturation is a Canadian instrumental rock band, led by guitarist/writer, Shant Hagopian. His band project features 3 of the genre’s most venerated musicians, Derek Sherinian, Virgil Donati and Rick Fierabracci. Add vocalist Andy Kuntz to that mix (on 1 track) and for Progressive Rock fans you have a mouthwatering proposition. Given the band members’ pedigree you get much of what you might expect. Tracks unfold thematically, mixing repeating motifs with slices of virtuoso solos, held together by a melodic thread. Holding hands, Progrock and jazz fusion jog through the first couple of tracks, ’Ambivalence’ and ’Make Believe’, occasionally changing up a gear, but while these and other tracks generally navigate the spikes and troughs of their combined musicality with skill, they often run into each other like they haven‘t noticed the lights have changed. It’s left to two tracks that fall outside the normal Progrock conventions to make the real running. ‘Blessing In Disguise’ is as lyrical a guitar instrumental as you’ll hear, and the primarily acoustic ’Point Of Singularity’ is an oasis of calm in a cacophony of noise. As skillful and solid as much of Solipsistic is, it rarely fulfills its promise, and struggles to exceed the sum of its parts.

Semantic Saturation - Solipsistic4 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Ambivalence
  2. Make Believe
  3. Lost and Found: Insanity
  4. Stardust
  5. Blessing in Disguise
  6. Armchair Activist
  7. Point of Singularity
  8. Time is an Illusion
  9. What if We All Stop

 

The Room – Open Fire

Melodic Revolution

It’s funny, of the three recordings reviewed here, this is the only one on a label, albeit a minor one, yet it sounds like little money’s been spent in the studio. In fairness, Brit Prog band, The Room strive manfully – with varying levels of success – to reach beyond the boundaries of budget. After the first couple of tracks, ’Flesh And Bone’ and ’A Casual Believer’, it would be easy – and lazy – to write them off as Saga wannabees. As the album progresses, the sound evolves (in a non-linear manner), and it’s clear they don’t lack ambition, breaking up the Saga-esque tracks with conventional melodic rock passages and earnest axe soloing, but it seldom seems to lead to that defining moment, when the musical payoff is revealed, and we feel that all’s well with the world after all, if only for a few fleeting moments.

That said, ‘Screaming Through The Noise’, sketched around a dominant piano and probably the most ambitious track here, provides the album’s artistic peak. Here, The Room embrace just enough of Saga’s art rock deliberateness to create an upscale progrock brand of their own making, adding passion and nuance to a well-crafted tune and arrangement. Elsewhere and too often the music plods where it needs to be light on its feet, and it’s thin where it needs to be densely constructed.

The Room - Open Fire4 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Flesh and bone 05:10
  2. A Casual Believer
  3. 16 Tonnes
  4. Screaming Through The Noise
  5. A Multitude Of Angels
  6. In The Shadows
  7. Behind The Silence
  8. The Spark
  9. ICU

 

Tiles – Off The Floor

Unsung Progrock heroes, Detroit band Tiles, have just released this 20th Anniversary ‘Best of’. But in this case it’s not a label cut and paste job. Live in the studio, the band have re-recorded a selection of tracks from an admittedly slim, but exceedingly handsome body of work. Hit their website to learn the reasons why. And it’s worked a veritable treat. One of the prime reasons for Progrock’s popularity is the music’s illusion of improvisation. You’re not quite sure what’s coming next, it could be a lightning strike of brilliance, it could be a damp squib. Reeking of class and plenty of the former, Tiles craft sturdily melodic melodies, angular and gritty, creating tangled songs that combine hard rock convention with an improvisational ethos, real or imagined.

It’s impossible to pick standouts, so, at random, ‘Token Pledge’ is perhaps the most accessible (and in some ways the most satisfying) track here. ’Changing the Guard’ is arguably the least ’Prog’ and ’Dragons, Dreams and Daring Deeds’ has the best song title, and the longest intro, and like all tracks here, provides full on sonic engagement. In these days of mediocrity, where even the rock charts are full of nondescript uniformity, ’Off The Floor’ should be purchased and slavered over by prog and rock fans both.

Tiles - Off The Floor9 out of 10

p.s. it’s mixed by Terry (Rush/Dream Theater/Klaatu) Brown

Track Listing:

  1. Landscrape
  2. Token Pledge
  3. Modification
  4. Capture the Flag
  5. Changing the Guard
  6. Segue / Window Dressing (Part IV)
  7. Dragons, Dreams & Daring Deeds
  8. Dress Rehearsal
  9. Hide In My Shadow
  10. A Minor Interlude
  11. Checkerboards
  12. The Wading Pool (Bonus Track)