“Variety of mere nothings gives more pleasure than uniformity of something”, John Paul.
Let me ask a question, “Are we happier being herded as sheep? Or do we like variety in our lives, something different to spice up the banal or commonplace?”
I can’t answer this question for you but, when it comes to music, I can tell you how I think. Normal is okay, in places normal can be good but, when it comes to cusp of things, right down to the nitty gritty, I like something that moves away from conventional formulae and is not scared to be unique and original.
The danger with this outlook, however, is that, if you go too far out there, too wacky and wonderful, you may only appeal to yourself and a select few others.
Austin, Texas band, Proud Peasant are described as being cinematic and pastoral instrumental progressive rock, the soundtrack to sublime dreams and wicked nightmares. Now, to me, that sounds a bit different to the norm so let’s have a listen and see what delights we have before us.
Guitarist/Composer Xander Rapstine was looking for a new direction in the summer of 2011. He had just quit his Austin, Texas pop/rock band, The Evildoers, a band he dearly loved, but no longer felt comfortable in. Starting a new musical chapter, he traded in the pop/rock stylings of his former band for a more rewarding style of music that he had grown to love since he was in his late teens: classic progressive rock.
Xander had written 3 lengthy compositions, creating pastoral soundscapes that reflected the peace, beauty, terror, and uncertainty of life. Inspired by some of his favorite bands and musicians, including Mike Oldfield, King Crimson, Genesis, and GentleGiant, Xander founded Proud Peasant in the autumn of 2011. With plans to enter the studio in November 2011, he began to recruit the musicians to help him record the debut album, Flight.
David Hobizal of Brooklyn, New York was the first to join the fold, adding his considerable drum talents to the music. Jay Allen of Fort Worth, Texas joined next, adding significant contributions on all manner of keyboard and piano. Kyle Robarge of Austin, Texas came with the highest recommendation possible as the bassist for the band. Mark Poitras of Austin, Texas was the last to join the band, contributing vibes to the B-Side track, Turbulence. He will be adding keys/bells/guitar to the live setup and collaborating on future albums.
Flight is a forty five minute album consisting of three tracks and the band manage to fit a lot of ideas into those three tracks. The Prisoner begins like some sort of computer game track, albeit an eight bit one from the 80’s and 90’s, before moving into cinema soundtrack territory. This soundtrack, though, sounds like it has come from the warped mind of Quentin Tarantino after one too many bourbons, heavy guitar, pounding drums and weird keyboard notes fight for your attention. There are parts where the keyboards take on some serious science fiction vibes and Arthur C. Clarke is having a Space Odyssey between your ears, these seem to be the more mature, grown up parts of the track. Overall it is trippy and psychedelic with strains of Ennio Morricone fighting to break out and grab your attention, like a drug addled spaghetti western. To be honest, it is not very easy to immerse yourself in the music but, in places, the effort is definitely worthwhile. The second part of the track seems disparate from the first with a drum beat reminiscent of a marching band and a trumpet note that seems to have wandered in off the set of a mariachi movie, very mysterious. The intricate guitar playing adds a note of suspense to the overall atmospherics but, and this is only a small criticism, it does seem to go on too long. This has certainly piqued my curiosity though. Let’s see what track two brings to this unconventional party.
Awakenings begins in a more conventional manner, a super-smooth acoustic guitar and orchestral introduction that wouldn’t go amiss as a part of a religious ceremony or a mafia movie even. Don’t be fooled though, off we go with an off kilter and manic keyboard and synthesiser section that seems to poke fun at itself as crashing guitars and hell for leather drums bounce around the soundscape. The addition of strings and a harder, more focused guitar note adds a whole new layer to the track, now sounding as if it should be played at 33rpm but someone knocked the lever and set it off at 45 instead. It is breathless and hard to keep up with at times but, persevere and your patience is eventually rewarded with a delightfully ethereal section with woodwind and gentle acoustic guitar invoking a peaceful picture in your mind, the pastoral effect already mentioned earlier. Don’t get too settled as along come the clowns with a guitar and irreverent keyboard that invoke a much more humorous feel , mischievous and imp-like. There are a plethora of different musical sections in this song and the one that follows just seems out of place to me. A slower, ardent guitar, that invokes fingernails scraping down a blackboard, is accompanied by what can only be described as the screeches and yowls of the feline variety. I just don’t think this part works and I’m already impatiently tapping my finger s and waiting for the next part of the song, the added brass instruments give it a portly demeanour but don’t take away that misguided feel, to these ears anyway. It comes as some relief as the next part of the track begins with a much more sincere and meaningful feeling. The trumpet and percussion elements are put to much better use and, basically, I really like this part as it engenders a feeling of wellbeing and bonhomie. Next we are transported to New Orleans and some really sexy jazz clarinet, keyboard and drums. Get your spats, wide brimmed hat and sharp suit on, you’re going to need it, the cheeky banjo section that follows has its tongue firmly planted in its own cheek. There then follows a choral section that invokes classical music to these less than well-trained ears. This builds up with, and is taken over by, the drums, guitar and keys to flower into a well conceived finale.
The third track, called The Precipice, begins with some jazz/funk fusion. Classy beats from the drums and intricate guitar play really do bring to mind free from jazz with an eclectic and progressive edge. Unconventional and idiosyncratic to its core, there is an intelligence and audaciousness to this song as if it is playing with you. As I’ve already said, you have to persist with this music to reap all the benefits from it. When it changes it does so with alacrity and zeal sometimes catching you out as it segues between different rhythms, beats and tempos. As you get deeper into this track, it opens up its soul and delivers more context and substance. The double bass is a really clever touch as it underscores the choral section, imbuing it with a soulful emotion. The distorted part that follows intentionally grates on your nerves before parity is returned and the nightmare transforms into a dream. You approach another u-turn as funky, crashing guitars fight for your attention amidst the calm and serenity, quite ingenious. You can feel the tension building, the song is building up to its big climax as everything melds together almost like a powerful musical overture to culminate in an all encompassing and powerful denouement.
In places Flight is quite an exhausting listening experience as lots of differing musical styles vie for your attention and, in some parts it is just too much, almost turning you off. I suspect that the band is taking it for granted that you have a certain level of intelligence whilst listening to their music. It is convoluted, enlightened and creative but not for the faint hearted. In fact, occasionally, it is too clever for its own good. That should not detract from the fact that Proud Peasant have produced a very good album that captivates throughout and I await their next release with not a little anticipation.