The Antikythera Method
Progrock Records, 2012
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/04/2012
One of the things that brings me back to progressive rock year after year is that there are rules, but then again there aren’t rules.
Prog is about stretching the form, about experimenting with the different ways you can combine rock and classical and other genres into pieces that may be long or short, conceptual or abstract. In some sense you never know quite what you’re going to get when you see something advertised as progressive rock. On the other hand, there is a core prog-rock tradition epitomized by bands like Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Gentle Giant that creates a certain set of expectations. The fun thing about modern progressive rock—the good stuff, anyway—is seeing how those expectations are met and/or confounded, how the existing strictures are conformed to or defied by modern-day proggers.
Centric Jones is essentially a duo, with Chris Fournier (keyboards, guitar, bass) getting first billing on co-composition and Tobe London (drums and occasional keyboards) getting first billing on co-production. Fournier and London take an interesting approach by combining what is in places somewhat traditionalist progressive rock—classically-influenced guitar and keyboards, atmospheric synth textures, wildly varying time signatures and virtuoso playing—with female lead vocals. About half of this album is purely instrumental; the other half features vocalist Laurie Larson.
Now, this is hardly the first time female vocals have been featured in a prog setting—Annie Haslam and Renaissance have been doing it for decades—but it remains rare, just as prog remains an overwhelmingly male genre in terms of both players and fans. (I can’t really explain that—just as I can’t explain why my wife enjoys some prog but has a visceral dislike of all Yes music—it’s just another curiosity to ponder.)
At first I was a bit skeptical of The Antikythera Method; the album starts out with two vocal tracks that start out feeling overly light and airy. Both feature Larson’s breathy, pleasant voice without really offsetting or challenging it—until a little over a minute into track two (“Shadow Song”), that is, when Fournier abruptly asserts control and plants a ripping good guitar solo on the ceiling. All of a sudden it seems that a balance might be struck here.
As “All For One” opens, the focus turns to piano and high-hat heavy, jazzy drums, taking on a sort of loose, early Pink Floyd vibe, although the distorted guitar that joins in is more ’80s in feel. The aptly-named “Boomer” is where they bring on the full heaviness Centric Jones is capable of, presenting an almost prog-metal approach in this powerful, driving instrumental with hints of Rush in the fat bass lines and rich guitar-synth interplay. About four minutes in, it veers into a much more mid-tempo, soaring, sunny style, one of those abrupt shifts that epitomizes prog.
“Dream In Threes” is primarily instrumental but with a few vocal passages; on this one the vocals don’t feel like they mesh as well even though the music offers plenty of space. “Pyrrhic Victory” has a nice opening with melodic keyboards and a big, spacy, unusual drum figure underneath. It has kind of the feel of Trick Of The Tail-era Genesis or Signals-era Rush, and left me wanting more when it faded out at just 2:24.
From there you get variations on what went before. “Fading Time” begins as a dreamscape but picks up a throbbing, rhythmic energy along the way. “Save Me” is a long, spacy instrumental offering especially nice guitar work in the late going, the kind of stealthy-smart background music that massages and stimulates the neurons as you’re thinking about something else. “Then” is a dynamic cover of the early Yes tune that morphs faithfully through its multiple musical identities and features long, fluid organ runs. “Pulse” feels a bit out of place, a traditional rock song with female lead vocals that could pass for Evanescence in places, except for the little wonky guitar figure that sits in the middle of the main riff. Instrumental closer “Antikythera Mechanism” finishes this album off in pleasantly odd fashion, bouncing through a plethora of time signatures, weird riffs and out-there synthesizers, a bit of a sonic collage.
Like Britain’s Big Big Train, Centric Jones has taken the classic prog style and updated it with sharp, pristine digital production, taking elements of the old—for example, their orchestral synth washes feel like a straight homage to early Moody Blues—and making them into something that feels fresh and new. These guys might not be making music on the level of a BBT yet, but there’s a lot to like on The Antikythera Method, numerous moments and passages that deliver genuine impact. They’re still on their way, but they seem to know where they’re headed… it should be an interesting journey.