1. Houndstooth Pt. 1 (4:04)
2. Houndstooth Pt. 2 (5:29)
3. Expo ’67 (5:04)
4. Flossing With Buddha (4:35)
5. Message From Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt (8:29)
6. Message From Uncle Stan: Green House (3:49)
7. Saffron Myst (4:02)
8. Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service (7:46)
Graham Epp – electric guitars, MicroMoog, Farfisa Organ, Farf Muff, ARP String Ensemble, Korg MS2000, electric and acoustic pianos
Jesse Warkentin – electric guitars, MicroMoog, Farfisa Organ, Farf Muff, ARP String Ensemble, Korg MS2000, electric and acoustic pianos
Scott Ellenberger – electric and acoustic bass, Briscoe organ, percussion
Andy Rudolph – drums, percussion, electronics
Eric Lussier – harpsichord (8)
At the end of February 2012, Mahogany Frog played two dates in the Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo – one of the largest cities in the world, and the birthplace of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, who died in a tragic accident in 1994. The sixth album of the Canadian quartet is dedicated to this legendary figure, who enjoys the status of national hero in his native country.
Based in Winnipeg (Manitoba), and named after an amphibian from south-east Asia, Mahogany Frog have been together since the late Nineties, and released six albums with different lineups – founders Jesse Warkentin and Graham Epp being the only constant members of the band. Senna, released in September 2012 by New York label Moonjune Records, comes four years after DO5, their first album for Moonjune. Besides their recording activity, Mahogany Frog are quite busy on the live front, gigging regularly in Canada and occasionally elsewhere: in 2010 they were invited to perform at the 16th edition of ProgDay, and wowed the crowd with their unique brand of wildly eclectic instrumental progressive rock.
Before Senna’s release, Mahogany Frog had undergone another lineup change, as drummer Jean-Paul Perron (who had been with the band since its inception) was replaced with Andy Rudolph, an electronic performance artist whose expertise with drum machines as well as a traditional kit adds a keen contemporary edge to the jazz-tinged, psychedelic wall of sound produced by the band. With all members possessing multi-instrumentalist skills, and switching effortlessly from keyboards (both analog and digital) to guitars and all sorts of cutting-edge electronic gadgets, Mahogany Frog’s music is at the same time cheerfully chaotic and sharply energizing – a collection of soundscapes that throw together a multitude of influences with wild abandon and unabashed eclecticism, but also with a method to its madness. Not surprisingly, the band have managed to land concert opportunities that most prog bands can only dream of – and that in spite of the often counterproductive “progressive rock” tag. While paying homage to Seventies trailblazers such as Soft Machine and early Pink Floyd, Mahogany Frog also embrace modern trends such as post-rock and even techno and trip-hop, seasoning the heady brew of their sound with the ambient-like flavour of field recordings of birds and whales.
The juxtaposition of organic warmth and state-of-the-art technology is revealed right from the intro of “Houndstooth Pt 1”, suggesting the sound of an engine being started (in keeping with the album’s title and cover artwork). The solemn drone of the organ evokes Pink Floyd circa A Saucerful of Secrets, and the mix of piercing slide guitar, rugged riffing and wacky electronic effects rivets the attention. “Houndstooth Pt 2” pushes distorted, almost Hendrixian guitar chords to the fore with a strong space-rock matrix, mingled with an atmospheric surge propelled by Andy Rudolph’s authoritative drumming. The compact, dense riffing and whistling synth in “Expo ‘67” are tempered by organ sweeps redolent of The Doors and a clear, sharp guitar solo; while bucolic birdsong introduces the lively, dance-like pace of “Flossing With Buddha”, in which layers of keyboards are bolstered by Andy Rudolph’s powerful drums.
The second half of the album opens with the sparse texture of “Message From Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt” (the longest track on the album), resting on strident, almost industrial sound effects, but soon evolving into an exhilarating guitar duel, backed by assertive organ and clearly inspired by Ennio Morricone’s iconic style. The shorter “Message From Uncle Stan: Green House” starts out slowly with a faintly ominous, spacey drone, then the organ signals a sudden, crescendo-like change of pace. Then, after the brief respite of the airy, electronic mood piece of “Saffron Myst”, chaos erupts with “Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service”, where buzzing feedback and metal-tinged riffing coexist with a field recording of whales, as well as an unexpected harpsichord finale with an elegant, almost classical lilt.
Clocking in at a very restrained 43 minutes, with only one of the 8 tracks exceeding the 8-minute mark, Senna makes the most of its highly concentrated musical content, striking a nearly perfect balance between inventiveness and sheer energy – a rare achievement even for an all-instrumental album. It also shows a band at the top of their game, whose expressive power seems to have been honed by their four-year break between albums. Indeed, Mahogany Frog deliver the kind of music that has the potential to appeal to a large cross-section of the non-mainstream audience – not just dyed-in-the-wool prog fans, but also those who actually believe in the original meaning of that pesky “progressive” word. A highly recommended album, Senna is definitely one of the most consistently strong releases of the year.