Diversity – is too much good or bad?
Having seen this album for sale on the Wayside website saying it is a fine chamber-rock release and since it’s out of print there will be no re-stocking of it, I asked my friends from the Zeuhl/Avant/RIO Team at Prog Archives if I should get it and Claire (Listennow801) told me that I will most certainly like it.
She was right! Thanks, Claire!
Before the review, a short introduction of the band using the bio I wrote for their Prog Archives page:
Zypressen is/was a Japanese chamber music quintet with ties to fellow countrymen Lacrymosa. Their music is more in the lighter side of things and they can be compared at times to Univers Zero (not to say they sound like them, but as a point of reference) and it slides into Zeuhl territories at times. While the lineup consists of an electric guitar, drums & percussions, the dominant instruments in their tracks are the classical instruments such as cello, violin viola, piano, flute and clarinet. Their s/t album from 1996 is hard to track and supposed to be out of print, but can found occasionally at online stores or auctions. In any case, well worth the trouble of locating it, as the album manages to keep a good flow of interchanging sounds/themes and electric vs. acoustic tracks.
Now on to the review:
A look at the lineup and instruments lets you know that indeed this is something special as aside from the rock instruments, there are others such as marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, flute, violin, viola, cell and piano. In the booklet there are liner notes in Japanese by a member of Lacrymosa, the band’s “relatives”, however those are in Japanese and so I can’t understand a thing, which is too bad as it could have shed some light on this relatively unknown band.
Like I wrote in their bio in PA, early Univers Zero and Art Zoyd might be point of reference, but not exactly sound-alike and they are not as dark sounding. They do reside in the chamber music/rock and also draw influence from Zeuhl (Point Of Compass). In their music they have a main theme around which they revolve, coming up with other developments of it as the track goes, then changing again to another route but they will not stay away from the main theme too long or drift away. They stick to it, develop ideas that come from it and in general remain “loyal” to that initiating melody.
They have tracks in which they sound denser, harsh and severe, emphasized by the bass and drums (again Point Of Compass is a good example). In others yet, they sound not as heavy feeling (as in STR (Against The Wind)) where the string instruments lead the way giving the music its lighter feel.
They also show a penchant for the more uplifting side of music, as can be heard in the relatively (to this album) happy sounding Tangent, where the percussions add to the jolliness (not to be mistaken with silliness as they never do that; it’s just a more good spirit feel).
With Etude it seems we have switched to a RIO attitude, with the guitars playing semi-nervous tones backed by well played percussions. It goes on further leaving that guitar-lead RIO sound for a short time to give the wind-keyboards the lead returning only to combine the tunes these two parts made. This track contrasts the uplifting atmosphere left by the previous one, with its somber and tense feeling. This track brought to my mind the 5UU’s for some reason.
Hana continues the style of Tangent, with its melodious rather cheerful (or perhaps optimistic sounding is a better description) tune and the lead string instruments.
Hana has a wonderful and fabulous melodic line somewhere towards its end, which is one of those goosebumps moments when listening to music.
With Prelude we veer into a more frenzied version of Zypressen. Starting with the strings going on for almost a minute, we then are introduced to a melody which reminds me of Dune’s album Eros, especially with the flute being brought in here. But then it goes on covering more musical grounds and this is probably the most diverse track on the album with the broadest scope of styles represented in it.
To contrast the aggressiveness of Prelude, the piano opening track 7 (its name is in Japanese) is relaxing and is followed by the strings and flute to enhance the calm “imposed” on us by the graceful playing. This sounds quite different than everything else here, as if taken from a classical ensemble album, and not from this type of group. Beautiful and pacifying piece, which some might not like to be in here as they may argue it doesn’t fit. But I actually fit it is not too alienated from the rest of the album, though somewhat peculiar.
Seemingly continuing this “trend”, track 8 (also a Japanese name) opens as if it’s going to sound the same with the piano opening. But then joins the whole band with a groovy rhythm, also bringing to mind a Zeuhl sounding rhythm. This alternates between a rhythm-less part and back again and after a while drift into calm waters where the rhythm goes on more peacefully and then again gets agitated. They continue to develop it, going into a somewhat jazzy ground (but only slightly so). As the music goes, the Zeuhl elements are more noticeable and Potemkine came to mind.
One thing can be said about this album and that it’s varied. Not only in the moods it creates and in the instruments employed but also in the attitude and approach of the musicians in the different tracks as I’ve described them above.
Some might say it’s too varied to the point of being not focused enough to allow the listener to enjoy himself, and not deciding on their own sound. But then, why would not all of the styles represented here be their sound? You might think of it this way, each track represents a different facet of the band, a different sound they want to express themselves through. Though I don’t think it’s un-focused, I do think the potential listener needs to be aware of the diversity found in here. But if you’re into the bands or styles mentioned above, I don’t think that the music will turn you off or disappoint you; though the choice of mixture might confuse you. To me this is a very well played album, diverse and beautiful, complex and interesting.