Saturday, April 28, 2012

Skysaw's "Great Civilizations:" Return from the Fall

Keeping track of all of my listening for the year of 2011 with the intention of creating a comprehensive year-end list had some unforeseen side-effects. By the time fall came around, I was being incredibly critical. It’s not that I was enjoying what I was listening to any less, but I was certainly starting to formulate some ideas about what I wanted the final list to look like. There were some really great albums that I summarily dismissed based, in retrospect, on picky details. Because it was the fall, they had no chance to “make a comeback” and redeem themselves in light of my own predilections.

For example, last September I was introduced to Skysaw’s debut album Great Civilizations. I discovered this project from Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain by trolling various mid-year lists in the summer. It was described as “progressive, symphonic pop,” and its cover certainly corroborated this description. After spying it at a local record store, I began circling it like a shark. The circles closed into a spiral when I came across this little ditty.

I have always been a somewhat lukewarm Jethro Tull fan, but a fan nonetheless. This tune felt like a fresh post-Mellon Collie interpretation on the Tull sound, and I found that quite appealing. With this earbug planted firmly in my head, I finally purchased Great Civilizations to coincide with my return to active duty as a school band director. It shared rotation time with the new Opeth album and the tUnE-yArDs, though, so Great Civilizations got sort of swept under the rug due to the greatness of its year-end list competitors.

It’s kind of a shame, too, because Skysaw is the sort of “under the radar” group that I would like to be able to promote more often on the blog. In the big scheme of things, it may have gotten less attention than I would have liked. The truth of the matter is, however, that some albums just sound better after they have been forgotten and returned to. This evening, as I was getting the Little One ready for bed, I casually put Great Civilizations on as background music, and found that it’s actually a great album.

(Sorry about the quality of the above clip. I really like this song, and I really wanted to post a live video of them, and this was the best one available. It’s hard to get a good read on bands that fly under the radar.)

The songs do have a prog-rock sound to them, mainly due to their complex melodic and rhythmic aspects, but they are generally short-formed, tightly structured, and pretty memorable.  Obviously, there is the flavor of Ian Anderson’s idiosyncratic warblings, and some harmonic figures are reminiscent of Queen while some guitar textures recall Hackett-era Genesis. Overall, however, there is relatively little direct quotation of original prog sources.  Skysaw seems to be great prog simply because they do not try so hard to be great prog.  Instead, they walk that fine line between complexity and accessibility, pooling their impressive musicanship to craft melodic riffs and textures that have the momentum of a roller coaster.  As a result, Great Civilizations is accessible enough to be worth checking out, and deep enough to be rewarding in the long term.

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