Let’s get one thing straight. The second album from Philadelphia freaks Make a Rising, the colorfully titled Infinite Ellipse and Head with Open Fontanel, is not your father’s art rock. Rather it is the art rock of your weird uncle who still lives in your grandmother’s basement and rolls funny smelling cigarettes on old Soft Machine LP covers.
The album arrives at the post-Animal Collective juncture in the indie-rock timeline, when eclecticism, experimentation, goofy aliases, fuzzy beards, funny outfits, and Brian Wilson worship have largely supplanted angular haircuts, garage-rock roots, and musical minimalism. A number of artists have lately assimilated the former aesthetic and applied it to loosey-goosey hippie jams and free-form freakouts, but this Philly sextet doesn’t mess around. They are dyed-in-the-wool art-rockers (dare we even say straight-up prog-rockers, without offending some post-punk purist’s delicate sensibilities?) who have obviously soaked up the lessons of British avant-rockers Henry Cow, American classical composer Charles Ives, and yes, Brian Wilson’s legendary art-pop suite Smile, well before Panda Bear made it cool to do so.
Infinite Ellipse has a couple of "everybody must get stoned" moments, but Make a Rising makes a virtue of precise musical movements, carefully crafted arrangements, and an almost anal attention to detail. Polyrhythmic syncopations of unconventional time signatures, unexpected but masterfully orchestrated dynamic shifts, multiple instruments hammering home unison riffs and ostinato counterpoints — hell, the only thing separating this from Close to the Edge is a Rick Wakeman Minimoog solo and some fruity lyrics. (That’s a compliment.)
It’s important to note that not only are the most striking moments here instrumental, but those lengthy instrumental passages make complete melodic arcs, eschewing the "throw a few chords together and go nuts" approach that would have been the easy way out. Make a Rising makes challenging music, but the ample rewards easily outway any demands.