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Wobbler: Hinterland (2005)

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Wobbler: Hinterland How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

One look at the plethora of instruments used by Lars Fredrik Frøislie, keyboardist for the Norwegian progressive rock group known as Wobbler, and you know the reference points for this band are classic progressive 1970s groups like King Crimson, Gentle Giant, ELP, and Yes. With Frøislie's rig painstakingly detailed in the booklet of this debut album, Hinterland—looking like an analogue lover's wish list—one wonders if the group could ever afford to hit the road.

Then take a look at the length of the four tracks on Hinterland. With the exception of the brief introduction, "Serenade for 1652, they range from 12 to 28 minutes. It's clear that Wobbler is all about the kind of long-form, suite-like and episodic compositions that represented the best—and occasionally the worst—of its progenitors.

But while its roots are clear, Wobbler manages to incorporate elements of its own country's folk music into the diverse mix, lending it a personal complexion. In the same way Gentle Giant incorporated aspects of Baroque and Renaissance music into its blend of odd meters, idiosyncratic arrangements, and solid rock rhythms, so too Wobbler finds ways to pull together a multitude of elements into a potent blend. It doesn't exactly say anything new, but it will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the aforementioned 1970s bands who pine for the days when they were not only filling halls, but selling a lot of records.

Thanks to the reach of the internet, progressive rock has been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years. But while sales of remastered/expanded reissues by classic bands are doing surprisingly well—and a whole subculture of lesser-known contemporary bands are selling enough records to justify their continued existence—few of these bands have actually reformed with any degree of success. King Crimson, under the watchful eye of Robert Fripp, refuses to look back, only forward. Yes has toured with its most revered lineup for a few years now, but it sounds as old and weathered as it looks—as does ELP.

And so the mantle falls to younger bands like Wobbler to keep the flame alive. Like Genesis, none of Wobbler's players have the kind of virtuoso tendencies of Fripp or ELP's Keith Emerson, but they're more than capable of navigating their own headily complex arrangements. And they've done their homework well. By incorporating the sounds and aesthetics of a wide range of groups, they've created something that sounds at once like all of them—and none of them. Contrapuntal acoustic guitar duets recall Gentle Giant, Karl Hultgren's bass the edge of Yes' Chris Squire, the haunting mellotron and jagged guitar early-1970s Crimson, and the detailed Hammond-based arrangements Emerson at his best. Johannessen's vocals are the only weak point, but in their very innocuousness they are easily ignored.

Ten years ago a band like Wobble wouldn't have stood a chance. But with a burgeoning progressive scene where festivals like NEARfest sell out in a matter of hours, albums like Hinterland have a chance at a real audience—and real sales.

Track Listing: Serenade for 1652; Hinterland; Rubato Industry; Clair Obscurity.

Personnel: Lars Fredrik Frislie: Hammond C3 with Leslie 122, Minimoog Model D, Mellotron M400 S, Petrof Grand Piano, Berggren Og Bengzon Reed Organ and Glockenspiel, Wurlitzer A200, Rhodes Mark II Stage Piano, Hohner Clavinet D6, Zuckermann Harpsichord, ARP Pro Soloist, ARP AXXE, Solina String Ensemble, Logan String Melody, Stylophone; Martin Nordrum Kneppen: Ludwig Special drums, percussion; Kristian Karl Hultgren: bass, saxophones; Morten Andreas Eriksen: electric and acoustic guitars; Tony Johannessen: lead vocals; Guest musicians: Ketil Vestrum Einarsen: flutes, backing vocals; Ulrik Gaston Larsen: theorbe and Baroque guitar; Paulina Fred: recorder; Aage Moltke Scholl: percussion.

Style: Beyond Jazz


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