1. Knee (5:05)
2. Oom Pah (5:09)
3. Missing the Train (3:41)
4. Rainbro (5:02)
5. Too Good To Be True (4:11)
6. Somnambulist Subversion (4:34)
7. Nut Job (3:12)
8. Forgotten Planet (6:00)
9. Dirty Spoons (5:12)
10. 25 Miles to Freedom (10:30)
Melody Ferris – vocals
Ivor Holloway – tenor and alto saxophone, clarinet
Pat Moran – electric bass
Nick Peck – Hammond B-3 organ, clavinet, Fender Rhodes electric piano, minimoog Voyager, mellotron, piano, Arp String Ensemble, Wurlitzer 200A electric piano
Doug Port – drums
David Shaff – trumpet
Ryder Shelly – vibraphone
David Slusser – Slussomatic, electronics
Andrew Vernon – keyboards, Farfisa organ
Bill Wolter – electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, electronics
Line-up on # 10:
Shayna Dunkelman – vibes, crotales
Melody Ferris – vocals
Jordan Glenn- drums
Ivor Holloway – tenor saxophone
Curtis McKinney – electric bass
Charith Premawardhana – viola
Max Stoffregen – piano, synth
Bill Wolter – guitar, keyboards
The high level of quality offered by AltrOck Productions and its subsidiary label, Fading Records, will no longer come as a surprise for progressive rock fans. However, there are times when an album released on the Milan-based label will exceed expectations – and this is definitely the case with Rainbro, Inner Ear Brigade’s debut album. Formed in 2005 in Oakland (California) by multi-instrumentalist and composer Bill Wolter, the band was originally a quartet; then, in the following years, the lineup grew into a 7-piece, with a number of honorary members participating in the recording of the album. Rainbro was recorded in the summer of 2010, and released on the international market in January 2012.
The Bay Area city of Oakland has long been a hotbed of cutting-edge music, being home to such highly acclaimed outfits as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and miRthkon (also on the AltrOck roster), as well as legendary guitarist/composer Fred Frith. However, Inner Ear Brigade have something that sets them apart from other bands that fall under the avant-progressive umbrella, and makes them more easily approachable by “mainstream” prog fans. With their extended lineup and intriguing instrumentation – featuring a healthy mix of vintage keyboards, state-of-the-art electronics and conventional rock gear, augmented by reeds, horns and vibraphone – they produce a lush, fluid sound that suggests the understated elegance of Canterbury bands such as Hatfield and the North or National Health rather than the austere beauty of Univers Zéro or the martial grandeur of Magma.
In quintessentially eclectic fashion, Inner Ear Brigade throw many diverse influences into their musical melting pot, straddling the divide between reverence towards past glories and a genuinely forward-thinking attitude. While the progressive rock scene suffers from a glut of acts often hopelessly rooted in the past and seemingly unable to go beyond reproducing the classic Seventies sound, Inner Ear Brigade use the influences drawn from the rich treasure trove of the golden age of prog as a springboard for creating their own sound, rather than as an exercise in nostalgia.
Though all of the band members are remarkably talented, Inner Ear Brigade’s ace in the hole is Melody Ferris’ voice, which at a superficial listen might recall the distinctive style associated with avant-prog and represented by Thinking Plague’s Deborah Perry and Elaine DiFalco. Indeed, the demanding vocal lines tackled by Ferris in opening track “Knee” sound like a textbook example of the subgenre’s conventions. However, as the album progresses, Ferris’ vocals become increasingly more versatile, engaging in singing and wordless vocalizing with equal effectiveness, and often “playing” along the other instruments rather than acting as a separate entity (a fine example of this is the atmospheric “Too Good to Be True”). The quirky lyrics enhance the album’s overall playful mood and emphasize its Zappa and Canterbury references, which the band share with their fellow Oaklanders miRthkon.
The first half of the album displays the strongest avant-prog imprint, effortlessly blending accessibility and experimentalism, catchy tunes and whooshing, spacey electronic effects. A sunny California vibe tempers the bouts of dissonance in tracks such as “Missing the Train”, while saxes and trumpet add a buoyantly jazzy note. In some of the tracks – notably the trio of instrumentals that precede the album’s “epic”, the 10-minute “25 Miles to Freedom” (recorded in 2009 with a different lineup) – the two souls of the band seem to coexist, with melodic, laid-back passages alternating with more energetic, upbeat ones, and short yet effective forays into more experimental terrain, duly bolstered by liberally used electronics. The title-track is powered by harsh guitar riffs and blaring horns; while the closing track takes the band deep into Canterbury territory, with Ferris’ splendid vocal performance bringing to mind the incomparable Northettes, and the viola adding a wistful, lyrical touch to a rich, almost symphonic texture. Varied yet cohesive, “25 Miles to Freedom” wraps up the album with a bang, conveying a palpable sense of enjoyment on the part of the band that listeners will be hard put not to share.
With a well-balanced running time of about 52 minutes, Rainbro never overstays its welcome, in spite of the undeniable complexity of the music. The album’s ebullient yet intricate nature will attract lovers of quirky, eclectic progressive rock, while the presence of vintage instruments typical of traditional prog may encourage the more conservative set of fans to give Inner Ear Brigade’s music a try. All in all, Rainbro is an outstanding debut for a band that is definitely going places, and a strong contender for my personal “best of 2012”.