“and now for something completely different….”
One of the primary criticisms of the modern “Prog” movement is how few bands are truly experimenting and pushing boundaries and moving the music into uncharted waters. While I don’t personally subscribe to that (very subjective) viewpoint, I can understand how listeners that lean more toward experimental and avant-garde musical forms could be disappointed by the tendency to reverentially look backward instead of boldly reaching forward…and outward.
Those listeners should do themselves a favor and experience ‘The News’, the sophomore album from Italian prog/art rock collective N.y.X.. It’s a daring and inventive journey that takes a plethora of influences and combines them into a unique sonic experience that will surely delight (or utterly confound) depending on the listener.
Walter F. Nyx (vocals, guitar, bass, electronica), Danilo A. Pannico (drums, percussion, piano, organ, marimba, electronica) and Klod (guitar, vocals) have crafted a group that is unafraid to experiment, to push outward, to challenge perceptions. Assigning a genre label to their music seems counterintuitive; let’s just say it’s progressive in the literal definition.
‘The News’ begins with the instrumental Restless Slumber (At The Break Of Dawn), sounds of a city filtering thru the early morning, stirring the restless sleeper awake to face the day. The piece is built off an electronic foundation of loops and synth washes with Cuban jazz pianist Ivan Napoles Bridon adding some McCoy Tyner-influenced improvisation over the top. It has a dreamlike quality with the clear ringing sound of the acoustic piano creating a natural juxtaposition with the electronic underpinning, the piece builds to a crescendo and then tapers off before the sound of an alarm clock shatters that early morning calm and thrusts you headlong into the insanity of….
…Groundhog Day (Wakening, Dressing, Starting Up…). This piece captures that near-manic state of being where you’ve gotten up too late and are forced to rush around the apartment in a frenzy, amped on adrenaline but not fully awake enough to focus it effectively. Basically, every morning for me. The arrangement is just as chaotic as that experience implies, a near-cacophony of instrumental elements and stylistic influences layered together into a massive wall of sound with the vocal line more spoken than sung providing narration. If you’re looking for calm and soothing…look elsewhere. Musically there’s a discernable influence from the Discipline-era King Crimson band, which makes perfect sense considering the guest appearance on our next chapter….
…A Sarcastic Portrait (Editorial, Home and Foreign) continues the busy intensity; a driving and chaotic electronic drum track provides the underpinning for guest Adrian Belew (King Crimson) to paint his distinctive and playfully gonzo guitar over the top. The vocal line on this track simultaneously reminds me of the chaotic Indiscipline (from ‘Discipline’) and Devo. Yes, Devo. About the midway point a calm enters the proceedings, the arrangement slowly winds itself down and from the quiet the sounds of marimba, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and synth emerge. This ebb and flow is indicative of the entire album, the moments of intensity cooled down by more pastoral passages and then using that false sense of security to jolt the listener into the next movement. There’s an almost playful quality to it all.
Discord (Domestic Policies) is the most straight-ahead composition on the album. Primarily acoustic-guitar driven, it’s a charming art-rock number that gives a nod to the psychedelic while still retaining modernism thru the underlying rhythmic pulse. The guitar solo is a particular highlight, including a gorgeous harmony section that really caught my attention.
The Paper (Titles & Subtitles) is a minimalist instrumental piece in two movements. A simple single-note piano figure and orchestral pad provide the foundation for the first section and then a multitude of instrumental colorations are layered on top. The second section is sparser, the piano figure here replaced by a bass guitar line with washes of synth and barely audible narration bubbling just below the surface. There is a cinematic quality to this piece and it kept conjuring up images of a nighttime urban cityscape in my mind.
Keeping the soundtrack vibe going, Oscillations Du Chaos – Part III mixes in the sounds of an analog typewriter into the arrangement along with piano, tuned tympani, loops, snippets of dialogue and a variety of other elements to create the soundtrack for a virtual newspaper office. It also functions as the instrumental intro to the album-closing epic of…
…The Daily Dark Delerium. This nearly 13-minute piece is the summation of everything that has come before, a chaotic, turbulent storm of an arrangement that leaves you drained yet satiated at its conclusion. Guest Trey Gunn adds his distinctive Warr Guitar to the instrumental stew.
This album isn’t for everyone, it’s not easy-listening, it does require some patience and some effort to fully appreciate. I myself listened to the album for a month before I felt I had grasped it sufficiently to write about. It was worth the effort.
There’s a joyous feeling that comes from finding music that’s nearly impossible to describe, especially in a musical landscape that often seems more concerned with cataloging artists into neat little stylistic boxes instead of just listening and experiencing them. I applaud N.y.X for being difficult, for being challenging, for being unafraid to experiment…for being progressive.
Released 26th Feb 2016 via Bad Elephant Music