Up front, I’m going to have to make a confession. There are few things that I loathe more than prog rock. I have gotten into many losing arguments with many a Rush fan about why, while I respect their technical musical ability, I would rather claw my eyes out than listen to any of their songs. Same goes for Yes, Jethro Tull, Dream Theatre, and a host of others. These were losing arguments because you simply cannot convince a prog rock fan that their music is lame. Scientifically impossible.
Having said that, there have been a few prog rock bands that have broken through my wall of hate and have actually made a fan of me. Pink Floyd had many prog rock tendencies in their music, but they always had a strong respect for melody and good songwriting, which made their music much more palatable for someone with my tastes. Another more recent band that has gained my respect is The Mars Volta, if only for their first album, De-Loused in the Comatorium. This record had actual songs on it, whereas all of their subsequent releases have just been one long “song” characterized by not much more than alternating noise, guitar wankery, and lyrics about internal organs.
The latest prog rock band to catch my ear is Long Beach, CA’s Crystal Antlers, and I’m happy to say that they are making a fan of me. While the album’s songs do tend to bleed into one another, each piece has it’s own musical identity and is easily distinguishable from the one before it. And, much like Pink Floyd, Crystal Antlers employ strong and oftentimes riveting melodies to craft exciting and energetic rock songs that draw from many influences.
Some would probably say that Crystal Antlers are not really prog, which has also been said of Floyd and the Mars Volta, but the blueprint of the genre is definitely there. What allows Crystal Antlers to overcome being pigeonholed into this genre is the myriad of influences that they draw from. Opening song “A Thousand Eyes” begins with a blasting wall of Latin-influenced rock that recalls old Santana or The Mars Volta before slowing down into an awesome 60’s garage rock chorus tinged with a bluesy melody. “Vexation” and “Arcturus” recall the unhinged rock ‘n’ roll mania of the MC5, while “Owl” is a slower yet powerful exercise in classic psychedellic rock. One element that seems to tie these songs together is a bluesy psychedelic theme borrowed from early, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, especially on display in “Parting Song From The Torn Sky.”
Still, the record sounds fresh and far from a rip off of any of their influences. Crystal Antlers have taken some very familiar sounds from rock’s past and crammed them together in an exciting and solid new form that makes them one of this year’s more promising new bands. Hopefully they can keep their momentum going and not devolve into a meandering beast like fellow prog torchbearers The Mars Volta.
“A Thousand Eyes”
“Parting Song For The Torn Sky”