(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Burlington is hardly a bastion of prog rock — at least not in the current century. But Elephants of Scotland, a newish local supergroup of sorts featuring members of Mailbox, Hot Neon Magic and the Dirty Blondes, are out to prove that certain segments of the local scene remember the epically heady glory days of Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer rather fondly. On their debut record, Home Away From Home, the band draws on the genre’s late 1970s and early ’80s heyday. The result is an updated take that both honors and teases prog conventions and manages to paint outside its royal red lines.
The record checks in at six songs and a prog-worthy 40-plus minutes. Despite that seemingly bloated run time, the album is actually quite efficient. Led by vocalist, keyboardist and primary songwriter Adam Rabin, EoS deliver a generally well-crafted suite of material. It’s founded on songwriting structures that are rigid enough to give each song an identifiable framework but pliable enough to allow for flights of improvisational fancy. As prog aficionados know, there’s a fine line between instrumental ingenuity and outright wankery. To their credit, these Elephants prove surprisingly nimble.
On the lead cut, “Geograph,” Rabin and guitarist John Whyte build a lean, insistent groove on a bed of staccato guitar and fleeting synth arpeggios. Backing this are Dan MacDonald’s propulsive bass and an alternately functional and flashy drum line, courtesy of Ornan McLean, that would make Phil Collins grin. It’s all a setup to the vocal storm that follows, in which Rabin and company exhort the virtue and violence of nature. Couched as an environmental statement, it’s about as close to straight-faced as the band comes — lyrically speaking, at least.
While the remainder of the album cheekily touches on appropriately fantastic subjects ranging from alien invasions to time travel — again, this is prog rock — in terms of sheer musicality, EoS remain dead serious. “Full Power” is something like what might happen if the Nice kidnapped Ben Folds. Nine-minute album centerpiece “Starboard” breathlessly dives into the New Wave-meets-metal end of the prog pool — where it likely encounters Styx swimming with floaties. The title track, clocking in at a comparatively sparse four minutes, is a lean, aggressive cut that practically begs to be the soundtrack to the montage sequence of a great 1980s flick.
The album’s shortest track is a setup to its longest and most epic, “Errol McSquisitor.” After generally managing temptations in the preceding half hour, EoS finally succumb to an 11-minute opus that builds from breezy keyboard pop into a maelstrom of psych-rock and finally relents in an ebbing tide of washed-out synth. It’s a masterful finish, made all the more satisfying by the previous restraint.
Home Away From Home by Elephants of Scotland is available at elephantsofscotland.com. The band celebrates the release of the new album at Metal Monday at Nectar’s on Monday, February 11.