What’s in a name? Do the emotions that a band’s name evoke influence your likelihood to like or dislike that particular artist’s music? And why am I even asking this question in the first place?
Progoctopus, that’s why. This new progressive band from Birmingham have just released their debut E.P. ‘Transcendence’ and, so far, it is garnering some great reviews. However the band’s choice of moniker seems to be engendering some less than positive comments.
I, for one, really like the name. There seem to be some rigid tenets in place for when you choose the sobriquet by which you wish to be known. Here we look at the three major ones.
1. Get a name that really stands out.
Make it so it is memorable and creates a vivid image or evokes a feeling in the mind of the listener. Well the guys have certainly ticked that box for definite!
2. Get an unused band-name.
Well have you heard of another band called Progoctopus? Exactly, point two is in the affirmative.
3. Make it relevant to the genre.
Progressive rock? Progoctopus? I think we can agree that that one is a definite yes too!
On a more serious note, will the band name put you off the music, come on, of course not or, at least it shouldn’t. Aren’t we all open minded, won’t we give something a try before shunning it? I should bloody hope so.
There is a hint of tongue-in-cheek japery about Progoctopus and I know the band are amused by, and love, all the discussion about the merits of that controversial handle.
Enough dissection, it’s time for the usual history lesson because, if there isn’t one, it isn’t Progradar!
Formed in November 2014, Progoctopus are set to take the prog world by storm with their debut EP, ‘Transcendence’.
The band consists of Jane Gillard (vocals), Alistair Bell (guitars), Samuel C. Roberts (bass) and Tim Wilson (drums).
“We’ve only been together a short time, but the ideas never stop flowing. The guys jam relentlessly and are seldom in 4/4” chuckles lead vocalist, Jane .
With this debut EP, the band have married the traditions of progressive music with stellar contemporary musicianship and big production values in performance, song duration or tongue-in-cheek humour.
“We combine as much anarchy, order and cheese as we can, rather than should, do in a musical democracy” Tim jokes. “For us, it’s about a happy, will-do attitude, rather than the number of notes. We have a mischievous and fun-loving manner and are always trying to slip each other up with a crazy new beat or riff.”
Guitarist Alistair comments on this positive sense of musical adventure. “The interesting thing about writing music with these guys is that we rarely know what’s going to happen next. One minute we might be playing a fusionesque jam a la Holdsworth, the next we’re playing anthemic rock, then we’re straight in to some Opeth style death metal. It’s mad but we love it!”
So onwards and upwards and time for the review of this four part E.P.
The first two tracks are actually part of the Transcendence Suite and, obviously, we begin with Part 1 and the winding of a clock before a funky, jazz style vocal introduction, heavy on the bass and with Tim’s drums providing a frenetic background accompaniment. A sort of Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s funktastic riff is provided by Alistair and off we go on this fun-filled maniacal free-flight through progdom. Things open up and become calmer with a really classy riff before Jane’s distinctive vocals take up the story. A powerful voice, full of clarity and soul, it is part of the lifeblood of this impressive start. The rhythm section is there just slightly hidden yet holding everything in place with a metronomic and precise beat. There is a joyful freedom deep at the heart of this music, the catchy chorus and funky music just have a definitive joi de vivre about them and you can’t help but be transfixed by it. A left turn into a more divisive and edgy feel fits in perfectly, there is even a hint of alt-country to Jane’s voice in places as the genre-swapping nearly loses you but you keep up, even if it leaves you breathless and in hysterics……
More of the same with Part 2? I hope so, there isn’t enough fun in music nowadays. A kind of mystical, trance-like piece of music holds you in sway as the second part takes on a more laid back feel at first. It isn’t long before the full-blooded chicanery and tomfoolery return in full force though and this time with a much heavier edge to it, Jane’s vocal taking on a feel of Ann Wilson from the early days of Heart before they went all soft-rock on us. A squirelling guitar run and repetitive return to the enigmatic riff of Part 1 keeps everything flowing smoothly. The dynamic chorus and persuasive, forceful melodies come to head as the track runs out to an energetically heavy conclusion.
A playful, more minimal aura surrounds the beginning of Like Stone. Acoustic guitar and chilled out drums play in the song before Jane joins the soiree with a gentle, nostalgic vocal that lifts you away on a gossamer thin cloud of celestial wonderment. Peaceful and refined it dances graciously along your synapses leaving you in a state of grace. A pleasant interlude from the prog chops of the first tracks.
Now onto the longest track on the E.P. Running in at just over 9 minutes long Carousel bounds into the arena with a hook ridden melody and boundless energy. The first verse is delivered in a slightly subdued manner but with a feeling of a pent up vitality hiding in the background. Unleashed and set free, Jane’s diva like voice commands the whole track and gives it a vivid life of its own. The intrepid rhythm section provides an all-authoritative backdrop for the vocals and guitar to engage in a bit of offbeat, funky and jazz infused interplay. The middle section of the track sees the three guys head off on a visit to virtuosity-ville and show their undoubted skill-sets but, it’s when the impressive melodies and harmonies kick in that you just kick back and let an indulgent smile creep across your face. As the track draws to its conclusion you just get the feeling that the band are having so much fun producing this music for us and I applaud them for it. The way the track runs out to its final notes is just another gratifying part of this satisfying new entrant into the progressive world.
One conclusion that you have to come to with Progoctopus is that there is a heartwarming love of life deep at the heart of this quirky English quartet and this comes across emphatically in the impish delivery of their music. Uplifting music for a sunny day that gives a rose tinted glow to anybody’s outlook on life. Come join the fun, you will never look back.
Released 25th May 2015
Band photos credit Dave Donelly