Progressive Rock. Assemblies of hirsute & impossibly ugly men gathered together in celebration of their own musical hubris. At least that’s the view held by a disturbing majority. However, the definition and musical representation of prog has changed considerably since it became a bloated parody of itself in the late ’70s. There is a new generation of progressive music upon us, led by bands who not only possess stellar musicianship, they can also write a real damn song!
Enter Adelaide’s Solar Soma. Bravely self applying the label of “Prog…sort of” in their bio, this is their debut 5 track EP…and a quite impressive one it is too. Unusually for a band with prog stamped on their resume, they are fronted by a female Vocalist (Cat Johns) and it is this touch that really makes them stand out from the pack. I can’t comment on the hirsuteness or relative ugliness of the male members of the band (Luke Whelan, Shaun Holton and Chris Lau on drums, bass and guitar respectively) but irrespective of their appearance, they’re all more than adept on their instruments of choice.
The names of some of these musicians may ring a bell with some of you, and with good reason. Bassist Shaun Holton is the mastermind behind Projected Twin (whose excellent album I reviewed earlier in the year) and the remainder of Solar Soma were essentially his house band for that album. Sort of a progressive Antipodean version of Booker T & the MGs if you will…
Musically this EP is similar in parts to Projected Twin as you’d expect, but with Cat Johns handling all the vocal duties, they really stand on their own. Not only are the instrumental performances exemplary, the songs have melodic pop sensibilities that distance the band from a lot of progressive rock. It’s about the songs just as much as the performances which is refreshing. There is also an abundance of chugging guitar riffs to keep fans of heavier music sated.
Imagine a slightly lighter Opeth if they booted out Mikael Akerfeldt and replaced him with Beth Orton! I know that sounds comical, but the music most definitely isn’t. Speaking of Opeth, fans of the same will dig this band, as will anyone who enjoys Porcupine Tree, Katatonia, Radiohead or indeed any modern rock with a progressive slant.
For mine, the standout track is the opening “Two Headed Dog” which is also available as a (well chosen) single. It encapsulates the band’s sound and features not only some excellent riffing and lead guitar work, but also a rather epic crescendo with some awesome, uplifting vocal harmonies to round it all off.
Very occasionally they do sacrifice the value of a song in favour of complex performances/arrangements, but they’re not guilty of the yawnsome recidivism of many prog bands in this regard. Even with this minor complaint, this is one hell of a debut EP considering it’s completely self produced and financed.
Highly recommended and definitely a band to watch!
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