Mahogany Frog is an exciting, challenging, hard hitting, innovative and progressive Canadian band. They draw from the same progressive, electronic and symphonic arc as Erik Norlander’s Rocket Scientists, but much like their gate fold art work, ‘Senna’ is something different again.
Brilliantly produced by John Paul Peters, this is an explosive album full of sparkling ideas, incredible dynamics and scintillating music that brings a welcome and fresh approach to high intensity instrumental music.
All 8 pieces could be part of a suite, were it not for the many competing musical ideas. And yet in spite of the different directions, the sudden tempo changes and a wide instrumental sweep, there’s does seem to be a progression at play.
Listen for example, to the slowly emerging guitar pattern on ‘Message From Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt’, which is early Pink Floyd with an Eno style soundscape. But it’s quickly subverted into something else with its own unique sensibility.
The linear spiralling arrangement pushes and pulls the integral guitar line into different directions with unexpected results. The colourful tones, nuanced vibrato and delicate percussion create an ethereal mood that is finally resolved by a guitar finale. It’s an unlikely but joyous meeting of Nectar, early New Order and Krautrock, conceived and fully realised in Canada!
The playing is beyond intense and the production is incredible. It leaves this writer wishing he had completed a course in musical theory, if only to discover just how much of this music is improvised and how much of it is planned.
‘Senna’ is a breathtaking tapestry of sound, where each track is a step to the next level. The opening ‘Houndstooth Part 1′ is a multi layered piece of emotive music with a progression at its heart and impressively builds a melodic landscape. It seamlessly segues into ‘Part2’ with pounding drums and a dark nightmarish feel.
If this is art rock then it is played with verve, style, passion and brash bravado, stretching the limits of the genre as the guitar gives way to pulsing synth lines and melodic swirls generated by electronic beats. ‘Part2’ eventually settles for a bombastic drone and chaotic splendour. It’s a massive, close to the edge, uplifting piece that finishes in a solid prog rock way with a sudden keyboard outro.
‘Expo 67’ drips with dramatic tension, opening with a variation on a Hawkwind intro, which could be anything from a misfiring motorbike to a light plane taking off. It splinters into a proggy organ/guitar break over a portentous rumble with flailing harmony guitars and a huge sounding rhythm section as the band stretches out with abandon.
The wonderfully titled ‘Flossing With Buddha’ is more of a retro, proggy sounding piece, full of fazed guitars, a mid-number tension building crescendo and an Emerson sounding organ break, while ‘Message From Uncle Stan: Green House’ references 70’s keyboard led jazz fusion and sounds a bit like Soft Machine.
‘Saffron Myst’ is a welcome understated melodic groove, but it never quite delivers what it promises. It disappointingly settles for a Tangerine Dream style link piece. It’s only when the siren drone segues into the closing track ‘Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service’, that you fully understand its place in the album.
‘Aqua’ is a cacophonous soundscape and arguably features the first underwater drum solo – well at least it sounds like that. The enveloping wall of sound is the band’s equivalent of their own ‘Sgt Pepper’ finale.
The unexpected synth noodles, backward sounding tapes and harpsichord are evocative of The Beatles ‘Revolution 9’ on their ‘White Album’. The Fab 4 could surely not have conceived of being such a significant influence on a groundbreaking album like this.
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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