CD Baby [Release date 16.05.15]
There’s something stirring on the Stateside prog rock scene, from the exciting new bands populating the festival circuit to the upswing in independent releases. Look no further than New Yorkers ShwizZ for further evidence. They started out in 2009 as a big funk band with original guitarist Ryan Liatsis and bassist Frank Coda, but they added guitarist William Schmidt, Andrew Boxer on drums, Gianluca Trombetta on keyboards, Matty Carl on sax and Paul Hollands on percussion, to transform themselves into a band with a broader musical vision.
The conceptual duality of the double album ‘My Good Side’ / ‘My Bad Side’, apparently reflects the band’s contrasting musical moods, but such is their bristling interplay and sparkling solos that they ride rough shod over any such divide.
Indeed, by the time of the soaring shred, pulverising riffs and climatic keyboard lines of ‘Doorbell’, the listener is inexorably drawn into the kind of sizzling interplay that renders other observations superfluous.
The two albums are each given a separate album cover to incorporate the themes, experiences and lyrics that make the band what they are. The music effectively mirrors the artwork, being the colourful sum of its intricate parts.
Such is the strength of the songs, the refreshing arrangements and the inspired playing, that ShwizZ sound like band at the apex of their career rather than an outfit still very much on the way up.
They have a musical vision built on the fundamentals of prog rock, shot through with metal, jazz, Latino and electro influences, but which refuses to be constricted by any musical demarcation lines. As the band itself has commented they: ‘tread a fine line between the groovy and cerebral.’
Their songs effortlessly slip from one musical form to another and change direction as they extemporise.
They open both sides of each album with an acappella piece. The polar opposite titles of ‘Outside’ and ‘Inside’ are sharply drawn into focus by the lush orchestration of ‘Summon The Fawn’ and the bone crunching ‘My Bad Side’.
Their music slowly evolves like waves before exploding into the interwoven wah-wah guitar and keyboard parts of ‘Number Twelve’, while the staccato Jethro Tull influences are judiciously framed by Andrew Boxer’s crashing cymbal work.
Everyone plays to their limit on an enveloping production that sounds as if the band had an overall vision in mind at the outset of the album. They add rousing harmonies, powerful riffs and subtle dynamics on ‘What Does It Mean?’, an album highlight with a choral arrangement that subtly underpins the guitar solo resolution.
They also burn with real intensity on ‘My Good Side’ on which they mould their live chops into the big studio setting to achieve a huge sound.
‘Slow Down’ goes back to their funky roots and features vocalist Marryn Azoff on the closest they get to being commercial. ‘Hot Air Balloon’ successfully broaches jazz-rock, while the frenetic ‘Duggan’ features Dream Theater keyboard player Jordan Rudess and concludes ‘My Good Side’ with a prog-metal intensity.
There are further metal influences on the epic ‘My Bad Side’, which adds synth layers to a sledgehammer rhythm and Zappa-style guitar, while ‘Annie Pt 1’ offers welcome breathing space on a Floyd influenced slide motif.
Perhaps ShwizZ’s biggest achievement is the fact they manage to pour all their musically diverse and thoughtful lyrical ideas into a seamless flow that even manages to incorporate the stretched-out Latino tinged jazz-fusion of ‘Orange Wreck’ and make it sound like an integral part of a diverse whole.
‘The Zone’ offers further diversity on a relaxed, almost languid, synth driven groove full of guitar and synth squalls that sit outside of the concept of ‘My Bad Side’. By the time of a stirring sax break, the band is playing with a swagger that belies the ‘My Bad Side’ title.
They finish with some outer worldly musical virtuosity on ‘Doorbell’ and stylishly glide over the melodic ‘Annie Pt.2’ on a perfect end to an exhilarating musical journey. *****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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