Richard Poulin 24-March-2008 Eris (2007)

Ann Bernath - Drums, Vocals, Piano
David Bernath - Guitars, Bass, Nano-Piano
Rick Whitehurst - Pianos, Keyboards, Vibes

As much as the UK was the breeding ground of mainstream, archetypal and groundbreaking progressive music in the '70s, as much the movement took time to take shape on the other side of the pond. Back in those years, even my tiny Canada was at least as “progressive” musically as a whole than our Big Brother south of the 45th parallel, with its Harmonium, L'Infonie, Contraction, etc. But one must admit that the 21st century prog has as solid ground as it ever had in the USA. One must now realize that the American prog scene is vigorous, immensely creative, and is one of the best places to look for what is really happening in the world of innovative progressive rock. Nowadays, what really takes my breath away and grabs my attention and makes me salivate in a sustained manner happens to be stuff by the US prog scene. The list of top notch groups and musicians, many of which with wholehearted masterpieces in my Gnosis logbook, is impressive: Far Corner, Claudia Quintet, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Alec Redfearn, Deluge Grander, Upsilon Accrux, Ahleuchatistas, and we haven't even strated to talk about the New York Downtown scene, with the ubiquitous John Zorn's circle of friends who never ceases to amaze us with the best and the less better :-)....

And there are more surprises at every corner that keeps us wondering whether the American prog scene is so creative and innovative is so as the result of a slow fermentation process, the type that gives us the best wines on the planet. Or for other reasons, socio-geo-political, that we know oh so very well... In any case, here is another gem that shone one good day with the laser beam of my CD player: Baku Llama's “Eris”. Baku Llama is a California-based trio with a distinctive, unique sound, that manages to succeed at the improbable ideal of making improvisation work around a central concept without too much noodling, taking chances while staying melodic, and displaying a youthful intensity that sounds like many things while sounding always new. “Eris” is their second album, although the first “Devour my Evil Dream” actually contains much of the material found on Eris, so I suspect the latter being simply a pre-release of “Eris”, take some and leave some... This is a mostly instrumental album, with two actual songs with lyrics which some have found out of place but which I rather love because of the purity of the alto singer's voice, Ann Bernath. She has that rich, sensual, powerful and earthly flavor that you can find in Carol of Harvest's Beate Krause, which is a strong compliment in my dictionary :-) A type of voice that would have propelled many '70s psychedelic bands to nirvana and that should be heard more often in the future, I hope. One weak point is the slightly trite character of the lyrics, which don't seem to be consistent with the more general theme of the album (Eris is Discord's Goddess), unless everything here is symbolic of a very personal subject matter, which could well be the case. Love, love, love....

Part of their highly distinctive signature is the intense, and I MEAN intense, constant interplay between an aerial , nervous, even manic, piano, and heavy duty, fuzzy-as-hell, pounding guitar. This is what strikes the listener at once, when that type of intensity starts to build up as on the second track, “Hamatsa” (you can look over what Hamatsa is all about, but I wouldn't dare venturing into that kind of esoteric hodgepodge all by myself :-)), that leaves you exhilarated, with adrenalin rushing into your brain muscles. In a word, smiling with aural pleasure. That track is very representative of the type of improvisational intensity that does not venture very far into avant garde, but that defies conventions and the beaten paths: progression in intensity with tension between the keyboards and electric guita /jamming, echoing, efficacious percussion playing/very natural, fluid interplay between musicians who are not necessarily virtuosi, butwho display so much emotion and expressivity and inspiration that the heart does not mind the less fancy :-) Jammy, spacy music reminiscent of some of Hidria Spacefolk work.

At first, the keyboard playing seems a bit too simple, not to say amateurish, but it matches the on-the-spot energy that is expressed throughout that album, which is self-admttedly reflecting the raw, unrehearsed and organic feeling of improvisational music. It works, despite its apparent lack of virtuosity. Hence the often heard reference to the Doors that one can find about musical references heard on “Eris”. And the guitar work! It's the daring aspect of it, the insistence, the jagged, plain, almost garage-like style, that contrasts sharply with the aerial, demented, chaotic piano playing, that makes the experience of listening to “Eris” so special. Just listen to the variations and the riffs on “Dreameater”: brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

The title track, “Eris”, is another particularly successful one and that is very representative of Baku Llama's signature: spacey, eerie effects that create again a very dramatic, intense buildup. The playing is simple again, but very effective ; one only has to leave oneself get swayed by the improvisational interplay between the musicians ; the key is in the disciplined ensemble playing where the intensity seems to be fully controlled, with a very subdued type of attack first, one feels that the musicians communicate strongly so that the buildup in intensity works almost seamlessly. Very much the illustration of the topic of Eris, the goddess of Discord. The spoken part in the last part is a bit weaker in the context of the music, but nevertheless serves the purpose of the concept.

“The Rite” is yet another buildup-in-intensity type of track, with a much fiercer intensity yet. The hyperfuzzy electric guitar playing is very raw but adds the required color to illustrating the theme. What makes Baku Llama's sound so distinctive is the ubiquitous interweaving between the keyboardist and the guitarist, the other instruments playing somehow the role for the continuo in baroque music. Pounding, heavy, ominous: a pure gem!

I strongly recommend that album for whoever is looking for yet another attempt at defying genres and daring to be authentic. “Eris” is not about grand performances this sounds great, but with the quality of a home, economic recording - but about the very essence of music as a vehicle for expressing human passion. “Eris” is not about subtle instrumentation and try-to-surprise-me musical experiments that so often fail because they forget the listener's soul and pleasure. “Eris” is about emotions and beauty. Eris is not about any of the excesses of the progressive genre. It's about using all that works to convey the language of anger, of sadness, of serenity, of chaos, and of the eternal wonder of man's place in Nature.

I would bet you have never heard progressive metal with such a well-contained intensity :-)

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