Mahogany Frog: DO5 (2008)
With contemporary music often looking to dissolve artificial boundaries and cross-pollinate with abandon, it shouldn't comes as a surprise to hear progressive rock groups using the same tack. On one hand, expectations often drive them to stay close to home Yes may release new music periodically, but its live shows draw more from the classic 1970-1977 repertoire than any other. Then there's King Crimson who, while looking back to some extent, are more interested in pushing forward and creating live sets reflective of that aesthetic. New groups aren't anchored down with the dilemma of evolving while, at the same time, pleasing longtime fans interested in hearing their favorite songs. Mahogany Frog suggests, perhaps, one possible future of progressive rock, bringing together elements of electronica, ambient, industrial and jazz into the more familiar terrain of detailed, long-form writing, odd meters and neoclassicism.
DO5 demonstrates what might happen if Radiohead and Sigur Rós were put into a blender with Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis, then dropping the vocals. The end result sounds like none of them, though markers run throughout DO5Mahogany Frog's fifth album, but its first for a label with widespread distribution.
"G.M.F.T.P.O." opens the nine-song, 45-minute disc with a high energy, guitar-driven anthemic melody, propelled by drummer J.P. Perron's visceral beat and Scott Ellenberger's thundering bass. But a mere thirty seconds into its brief ninety-second duration, it enters space-rock territory, with electronics entering the picture as a series of punctuating shots segue into the eleven-minute "T-Tigers & Toasters." Ambient sounds from a variety of analog and digital keyboards, played by Graham Epp and Jesse Warkentin, build into a deceptively unsophisticated three-chord change that morphs into alt-rock as they pick up guitars for a high volume, heavily distorted power-chord theme. The simplicity turns complex, however, during the second half as odd meters and unexpected twists and turns are introduced, along with sudden dynamic shifts from ear-splitting to a near-whisper.
One thing is certain, however: Mahogany Frog is a band best experienced with the volume control turned up to eleven. It only helps to make the quieter passages even more dramatic and the symphonic tinges of "Last Stand at Fisher Farm," with Epps and Ellenberger picking up trumpets for its potent theme, all the stronger. Mahogany Frog isn't a group that relies on solos to impress, but Perron nevertheless stands out, his playing on the knotty "You're Meshugah!" especially frenetic and captivating. The brief, riff-driven "I Am Not Your Sugar" may be a head-banger's delight, but it's one that expects the metal-head to pump his fist while searching desperately for the "one."
Accusations of bombast tend to follow progressive rockers around, and there's no shortage of turgidity to be found on DO5. Still, it's a guilty pleasure that fans of the alt-rock scene, looking for something more challenging, may well gravitate towards. For longstanding progressive rockers who believe in emphasis on progressive, Mahogany Frog hits all the right reference points, yet is as contemporary as it gets, breathing new life into what is mistakenly considered by some to be an outdated genre. They couldn't be more wrong.
Track Listing: G.M.F.T.P.O.; T-Tigers & Toasters; Last Stand at Fisher Farm; You're Meshugah!; I Am Not Your Sugar; Demon Jigging Spoon; Medicine Missile; Lady X OC & Shield Jaguar; Loveset.
Personnel: Graham Epp: guitars, Micromoog, Farfisa organ, Farf Muff, ARP String Ensemble, Korg MS2000, electric and acoustic pianos, trumpet; Jesse Warkentin: guitars, Micromoog, Farfisa organ, Farf Muff, ARP String Ensemble, Korg MS2000, electric and acoustic pianos; Scott Ellenberger: electric and acoustic bass, conch, Briscoe organ, percussion, trumpet; J.P. Perron: drums, percussion.