Birdsongs of the Mesozoic The Iridium Controversy Review

BBC Review

Hard rockin' chamber quartet music from American neo-prog outfit, now in their 22nd year.

Peter Marsh 2003

Though they've got one of the best band names ever and have been together for over 20 years, this lot haven't really crossed my radar in any meaningful way before now. They're part of the American neo-prog rock scene that the wondrous Cuneiform label are doing a pretty good job of documenting. Before you hit the back button in horror at the use of the 'P' word (and the accompanying Roger Dean cover), I should say this is the kind of prog that stems from the amped up C20 chamber music of Henry Cow, Egg or even Frank Zappa rather than Genesis or Yes.

Still with us? Good. Because this is one of the most intricate, melodic and downright gorgeous records you're likely to have heard in this vein for years. While Birdsongs (basically a lineup of keyboards, guitar and woodwinds augmented by various drummers and the piano of original member Roger Miller) are dab hands with all sorts of arcane time signatures and tricky ensemble playing, their music is warm, stuffed with invention and references that range from Darius Milhaud to Canterbury scene prog to ambient techno.

What makes their music work is the combination of strong compositional skills, a highly distinctive feel for tone colour and flawless, detailed production. Michael Bierglo's guitars offer plangent, picked acoustic figures, sci-fi skyscraping action a la Fripp or Torn and even a whiff of the great Phil Miller. Bubbling, restless electronics, prepared pianos, skittering percussives and discreet atmospherics drive the whole thing along while Ken Field's fruity saxophones take much of the melodic duties. Even at their most edgy, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic don't bludgeon you like King Crimson might, with the result that this is an album you can slip in your player without the slight sense of trepidation you might normally feel at the thought of an hour of instrumental prog.

Some of their themes recall the grand statements of Zappa or Hatfield and the North, yet there's a distinct lack of either pomposity or tweeness. It's a difficult act to pull off, but by Jove, they've done it. The Iridium Controversy is fantastically detailed, intricate stuff that gets better with each listen...recommended for both prog heads and neo-classicists alike.

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