Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wobbler, Chris Squire, and Alternate Realities

I seem to remember hearing Wobbler’s name whispered in the virtual shadows of my various news feeds last year, but when they came up on a year-end “Best Prog of 2011” list with several other interesting artists, I ordered Rites at Dawn. Before I continue, I admit that in previous posts, I have often criticized bands that indulge in retro-prog. I feel that they play a role in the stagnation of progressive rock music. In the case of Wobbler, however, their obvious reverence for Yes’ most adventurous and artistically successful period grants them a level of forgiveness. Classic keyboard and bass sounds, coupled with a strong melodic and compositional sense, allows Wobbler to sidestep the sterile results that most retro-proggers get.

La Bealtaine by Wobbler on Grooveshark

Wobbler does a respectable job of using Yes' most  classic period as a launching pad. Within this stylistic framework, however, there are variances in execution due to each member’s idiosyncratic musicianship. For example, drummer Martin Nordrum Kneppen doesn’t really play like either Bill Bruford or Alan White. He’s cut more from the post – Anglagard school of drumming.  Its distinguishing aspects like these that allow me to indulge in theoretical “What If…..?” games with Yes history when I listen to Wobbler.

For example, despite several member changes during Yes' 70s period, the band sustained a perceptible continuity in their musical identity. One member has always stayed constant in Yes, however, and that is bassist Chris Squire. Although Jon Anderson’s distinctive leads are central to the Yes sound, Squire’s backups have always delicately sat on top of them.

Briefly, around 1974, the various members of Yes went on hiatus and each one of them made a solo album. For some of them, this began a long solo career that would run parallel to their involvement in Yes. For whatever reason, Squire never ended up being as prolific a writer as some of his bandmates, but out of this initial crop of solo work, Squire’s Fish out of Water remains my favorite. Predicting Sting’s jazzy approach by nearly fifteen years, Squire’s choirboy vocals reveal their potential at center stage. With a backing band that was effectively a Yes lineup that never existed (including Bill Bruford, Patrick Moraz, and Mel Collins) Squire delivered a consistent set of infectiously melodic orchestral progressive rock.

Despits Wobbler's inarguable Yes-ness, I think that lead singer Andreas Prestmo’s voice has more in common with Squire’s glassy smoothness than the angelic rasp of Anderson.  So what if, after the Yes solo outings, Anderson left Yes and the band continued as a quartet, with Squire taking over the lead vocals. Squire’s obvious melodic sense could have carried the band without radically altering their sound. Rites at Dawn allows me to indulge in this fantasy by capturing a slightly different image of what Yes might have sounded like in their heyday under different circumstances.

A Faerie`s Play by Wobbler on Grooveshark

At the same time, I genuinely respect the craftsmanship that Wobbler invested in this album. Regardless of how clearly they wear their influences, it takes no small amount of musicianship to effectively construct pieces like the ones found on Rites at Dawn. Somehow, it stands on its own while leaning heavily on its own past, allowing the novel to arise within the nostalgic. If you are a Yes fan that cannot accept Yes’ most recent incarnation, Wobbler may be a solution.

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