One cannot survive just on polished, finely chiseled progressive rock albums all the time, and I know for a fact, that many aficionados actually enjoy the rougher edged, at times raw options available. Even the under-produced thinner sound can lay bare the purest of talents, shedding layers of overbearing armor that shields the true essence of a melody or a composition. Fripp once was asked the rather stupid question: “What is what is your favorite note or chord?” to which he imperiously retorted “Silence!”.Double entendre par excellence! Rick Whitehurst is a composer and keyboardist who lives in my favorite state of the entire union, named after that famed general and first president. On this 2024 release, he teams up with guitarist Kalvin Foster, proposing the more experimental side of the progressive spectrum, and thus challenging the ear and the mind without the slightest hint of prog by numbers. Each track exudes a stylistic uniqueness, keeping the listening process exciting.
Kicking off any recording with a 10-minute long epic, is perhaps commercially risque but it certainly sets the cinematic mood with a wide variety of sonic and vocal effects that infuse a definitely visionary impression of archeological voyage and ultimate discovery. “The Princess of Tisul” is a sonic travelogue in the vast Central Siberian steppes and going back to the dawn of time. A sabre-tooth tiger eyeing a wholly mammoth near the Mongolian border, while in the distance, tribesmen travel to a solemn burial ground. Stark but intense.
The concussive “Butcher Shop” is a tortuous affair with an incendiary cleaver guitar chopping away at a rhythmic carcass, with mechanical drum slices carving the meat from the bone. Its somehow pleasantly messy, never really macabre, and undoubtedly out there. Rick’s piano twinkling eases the previous oppressive atmosphere and reverts the arrangement into a more palatable realm, fit for sale and proper consumption.
Sounding like a modern version of a late 60s hippie lament, “The Waves” hints at a beachside Hotel California, smooth and sunbaked, Pacific Coast highway in the distance, a surfboard stuck upright in the sand. Foster’s guitar stings and twangs like a Mojito with fresh lime and some coconut slivers to chew on. Cool breeze.
Tropical industrial effects, mixed with operatic effects and moaning orgasms, “The People vs Celia Valdez” is a montage of dueling psychedelia powered by various keyboard ruminations, both soothing and somewhat ominous. The fractured guitar shards induce a whirlwind of odd impressions, unsure if they are pleasant or uncomfortable, certainly not pretty and accessible! Crowd noises and tumultuous applause.
“Dead Man Trolling “is both jazzy and laid back due to the saxophone and the swooning vocal whilst still emitting untimely gloom with a dejected piano reciting last rites. More sax on the ripping “There Walks a Man” with Foster ‘fripping’out on his fretboard, an adventurous soundscape for a pedestrian (excuse the pun) stroll deep into the urban decay.
The final three tracks are clearly reworkings of a previous era, “Mean Old World/Big Sky Drifter” comes across as way more melodic and symphonic, a favorite number here. The guitar still colouring the arrangements with liquid notes whilst the sonics are keyboard generated, at times quite energetically bombastic and pervasive. The dense phantomized electronics are creepy, the spectral voices in delirious pain, the mood succinctly sombre.
There are days for pastoral reverie (Slow Dance by Ant Phillips is a regular Sunday ritual), other times, one looks for comfort zones within symphonic or its younger cousin Neo, then dive into the more sombre realms of electronic rock. On occasion when the need for being challenged becomes an overpowering urge, a virtual sonic leap into the unknown can be most refreshing, like plunging into an icy lake after a hot sauna. Bakullama will do just fine.
4 Walla-Walla insomniacs