“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
So, there you have two different schools of thought, good old Bill Shakespeare was basically saying that it doesn’t matter what you CALL something, it is what that something ACTUALLY is that matters (well, that’s the way I interpret it anyway).
Yet the differing opinion is that the name can make a difference to how we interpret something and how we actually react to it. Names that give negative connotations can actually inhibit where names that give a positive vibe can add appeal.
I know what you’re thinking, “What is he waffling on about?”, but this very conundrum came up earlier this year for the band formerly known as Progoctopus. The band’s moniker was seen as being detrimental to their progress as if there was an unwritten law that any band should not have the word ‘prog’ anywhere within its title.
This wasn’t just the general public and listening audience, those that make up the mighty cognoscenti of Progressive music had said it was so.
So, what did the band do? well, here’s a clue…..
So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the reborn Oktopus and the changes didn’t end there either.
Original singer Jane Gillard, who sang on the band’s well received debut (as Progoctopus) EP ‘Transcendence’ left the line-up and, to the surprise of many, was replaced (in an almost Genesis style) by guitarist Alistair Bell, making Oktopus a ‘power trio’ completed by drummer Tim Wilson and bass player Samuel C. Roberts.
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.
Look, I’ll be honest here, I’m a big fan and friend of these talented musicians (hell, I even wrote the press release) but, as ever, this will be a very objective review and I won’t let my ties cloud my viewpoint, okay?
Discord (Approach) is like a musical Amuse-bouche for the album, a little bit of music which is served before the rest of the album to stimulate the musical appetite. A slow burning, disturbing appetite stimulator at that too!
Now onto the main feature and the first track released from the album, Eyes Open. A frenetic and intricate opening of carefully choreographed disharmony between guitar, bass and Tim’s manic drumming paves the way for some tasty, punk infused, jazz-funk. The staccato riffs and stylish bass provide a counterpoint for Alistair’s actually rather impressive vocals, this lad can sing and sing well. The driving force behind the punchy music is the ever present drumming of Tim Wilson who has some metronomic skill behind the kit. There is an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek feel that runs throughout, especially on the rising chorus that becomes a real ear worm. Never a track to rest on its laurels though, the elaborate jazz/prog fusion section is quite an involved trip for your ears and mind and adds some cerebral gravitas, a great start to the album.
Title track Worlds Apart is a full-on jazz infused prog-fest from start to finish. Here the musicians get to show off their not inconsiderable prowess and you get flashes of Alistair’s Aeon Zen persona with his skilful guitar playing (albeit utterly jazzed up rather than ‘heavy metalled’). Stylish jazz lounge drumming from Tim (light cymbal tapping ahoy!) and some silky smooth bass from Samuel all add to the feeling of panache, the vocals having a touch of the laconic and ironic Ben Folds. Busy and energetic, this song takes you on an enjoyable series of twists and turns that leaves you with no idea of where you’ve been or where you are and not caring anyway. A labyrinthine guitar solo leaves a smile on your face as this jazz/prog fusion special closes out.
The Adventures of Jerry Troutmonto (Part 1) is a humour filled three minute instrumental homage to a (possibly) fictional character. A musical smorgasbord of wilful guitar wankery, frenzied drumming and maniacal bass playing. Alistair is having a field day with his fiery licks and unabashed noodling and his partners in crime give him the canvas to perform on.
Haru, a mid-album break of oriental pipes and mysticism. Just over one minute where you can step off the world and take a break in its peaceful and ethereal atmosphere and come away emotionally cleansed before taking on all comers once more.
The Hand On Your Shoulder begins with real laid back and chilled vibe, gentle guitar and vocals being the artist’s utensils. But this is Oktopus so the calm and collected doesn’t last for long and we set off on another convoluted journey, this one with a decidedly darker shade of fun and games. The vocals have a more serious tone and the whole song has a much more grown-up and sober atmosphere. Shut the door and leave the kids outside, this is where it gets deadpan and no prisoners are taken. I like the contrast between the light and the dark that this track invokes, it’s clever and no-nonsense.
So the final part of this thirty four minutes of musical mayhem and japery, Minotaur, begins with another slice of the funktastic, restless prog/punk/jazz fusion as the guitar slaps you in the face with some pin sharp riffing, the drums do what the hell they like (as usual) and the bass tries to restore some semblance of order. Alistair gives another excellent vocal delivery, he has some lungs on him this lad, and you are sucked into a thoroughly enjoyable vortex of tomfoolery and horseplay from which you emerge laughing hysterically and with your eyes not quite focused. However, if you look below the thin veneer of humour, merriment and gaiety, you will find three musicians who really know their stuff and this prowess is on display for all to experience on the dextrous and inventive instrumental section running throughout the middle section of the track. The last part of the song is all about the ‘power’ in power-trio as the guitar hits you with some seriously heavy riffing, the drums mount a final attack and Sam’s bass acts as the conductor and hold on for the little surprise in the last sixty seconds or so….
So, what’s changed with the moniker? Perhaps a more mature and concise feel to the reckless abandon and boisterous energy? Alistair steps up to his vocal duties with aplomb and these three musicians deliver an exciting, high strung and irascible thirty four minutes of near perfect jazz-infused prog that leaves you asking, “What happened to the rest of the album?”, it’s that good!
Released 1st April 2016.
Buy ‘Worlds Apart’ from bandcamp