Second album from new complexity progressive rock outfit...
Peter Marsh 2004
To most of us, the term progressive rock means concept albums, triple necked guitars and cape-wearing keyboard wizards, most of whom who retired hurt in the punk rock wars of 1976. But while punk grew into a movement as reactionary and commercialised as the status quo (no pun intended) it set out to destroy, a strain of exploratory, politically radical and complex music was being made that did (and still does) merit the term 'progressive'. Chris Cutler's ReR label has been a key outlet for such efforts since the late 70s, and despite sometimes perilous financial straits seems to go from strength to strength with each release.
The Science Group are led by composer and keyboardist Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer. Spoors is their second album, and in a slightly altered lineup features guitarist Mike Johnson in place of Fred Frith, along with the wonderful Bob Drake on bass and Cutler's octopoidal drums. While their debut featured Amy Denio singing Cutler's quantum physics inspired texts, this is a purely instrumental record.
Even without musings on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and Schrodinger's Cat, it's difficult to escape thoughts of bewildering subatomic phenomena when dealing with the intricacies of this fantastically rich music. This really doesn't sound much like anything else; bursts of free improv, C20 classical, cheesy organ melodies, sampladelic cut 'n' paste, advanced mathrock pulses,drum 'n' bass, cheerful dissonances, echoes of Eastern European folk, all assembled with a watchmaker's precision and cut with Drake's singular engineering skills.
It may be virtuosic stuff, but it's the collective virtuosity of a string quartet rather than the mere ego boosting showmanship that usually happens when advanced instrumental technique ends up in the hands of rock musicians. But neither are the Science Group a bunch of automata obeying the composer's wishes.
Drake's slightly warped imagination infects his spiralling, crunchy basslines, while Cutler sounds like Keith Moon playing Varese's Ionisation as he rides Tickmayer's fiendish time signatures. Johnson switches from angular distortions to amiable twanging to full on avant metal thrash. Tickmayer's samples and keyboards glue proceedings together with slabs of sour chords, hyperspeed arpeggios and bursts of digital noise.
Exhausting, obtuse and beautiful all at once, the Science Group prove that in the right hands, rock (or whatever you want to call it) is an infinitely malleable form, capable of expressing pretty much anything. Here comes the Science bit...