Big O Records [Release date 27.01.15]
“Thank you for calling Conglobocorp: Government made easy, your call will be recorded and archived in your Perma-file for security purposes”.
Welcome to the futuristic world of keyboard playing composer Jim Alfredson and his band Theo, in which you can also “file a petition to propagate” or you might wish to enquire about your; “recreation allowance balance”.
‘The Game Of Ouroboros’ isn’t so much a call to arms against corporations as simply a dark vision of a world in which the citizen stands in the shadow of corporations: “We own the shit you eat and watch you grow tired and fat, Content with chemical treats and no worries you’ll fight back”.
Bleak as the outlook might seem, the album’s narrative thread is spun by some of the most uplifting prog rock music I’ve heard for a while. Initially rooted in a Pink Floyd feel – from the close to the mic whispers, echo reverb and Zach Zunis’s guitar solo – the title track works towards a pulsating keyboard led outro
‘The Game Of Ouroboros’ has real depth and plenty of intense music moments to match its dark lyrical outlook. It’s a narrative driven album with sparkling instrumental passages that unashamedly evoke the early 70’s Brit prog era.
Keyboard player Jim Alfredson is a man with many musical outlets who doubles as a jazz Hammond and blues keyboard player, but on this album he gloriously shares his love of prog rock on an album with a sci-fi feel that has much to say about contemporary society.
As his press sheet notes, he puts a great value on keyboard-led prog rock with a melodic undertow. And if that means he sometimes evokes Pink Floyd, Yes and Gentle Giant then so be it, as he has the compositional depth and musical skills to draw from the past to shape something unique in the present.
‘The Game of Ouroboros’ is that rare thing, an album with great music and meaningful lyrics that for the most part are worth following.
On the intro to the dreamy, synth driven riff of ‘The Blood That Floats My Throne’, a answer phone machine is followed by an eerie corporate message; “A passive citizen is a happy citizen”, while Jim’s spiralling synth work and subsequent pipe organ solo gives the track a portentous feel wholly in keeping with the thematic concern of the album.
The track builds up impressively before dropping down to a synth pulse and more unsettling messages such as: “Remember, a good consumer benefits every one”
He sets out his stall on the opening title track which draws the listener in on the back of a Floydian groove, as part of a sweeping melody and layered keyboard sounds. Contrary to his aim of being a keyboard led band, there is plenty of room for the excellent Zach Zunis on guitar, and as with all aspects of Jim’s music, the instrumental beaks and solos are an integral part of the piece rather than a redundant embellishment.
‘Creatures Of Our Comfort’ features a soulful Michael McDonald style vocal before settling into a subtle funky percolating groove and another astute lyrical observation: ‘We’re creatures of our comfort. No one likes to admit. When it’s been right under your nose but you kept ignoring it. Now it might be fatal, a case of too little too late’.
There’s a call to: “mute the talking heads” and conquer “fear and dogma” as part of an uplifting arrangement that is beautifully embedded on a rhythm pattern and swirling synth squalls that cleverly mirror the lyrics.
This is quality music, full of intricate playing and is everything prog rock should be, as the music supports the thematic compositional pillars. On ‘These Are The Simple Days’, gentle melodic arrangement suckers us into an unsettling lyric: “These are the simple days before the trials begin, we’ll wish them here again.”
Lyrically it’s a piece that defines being an independent spirit or an outsider. In this case Alfredson is an independent musician playing inspiring music for a perceived audience that enjoys progressive rock with depth and substance.
‘These Are Simple Days’ evokes early Genesis, though the ascending synth solo could be Phil Ryan from Man, as there’s an inevitable crossover between bands that search out melodic progressions. And Jim has a locker full of progressions that give the album its flow and a linear feel. Each piece feels interlocked and part of the overriding theme, which of course it is!
And just when you think ‘These Are The Simple Days’ has run its course there’s a piano link and lovely melodic end-piece with deft brush work from Kevin DuPree.
The stuttering staccato intro of ‘Idle Worship’ comes as surprise and plunges into a Gentle Giant style figure and an over arching melodic sweep, before settling into a rather pedestrian tempo and a poke at American football as the opium of the people.
If there’s a disappointment its simply that the final piano ‘Exile’ spends too long on forgettable lyrics before a meandering, but definitive synth solo leads us to the finale.
It’s hard to believe that the inspiring prog rock of ‘The Game Of Ouroboros’ is a work that has bubbled to the surface in between Jim Alfredson’s musical day jobs. All the more reason to celebrate its existence and toast a great album. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00
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