When you break it down, Upsilon Acrux is all about multiplicity. Why stick to one time signature per song if you don't have to? Why limit yourself to a single melodic theme when you can throw in a dizzying array of counterpoint lines? And for that matter, why stick to one discrete song per track, when you can craft what amounts to a mini song-suite? These are the questions asked on the West coast band's sixth album, Radian Futura, and the answer to them all is a wicked laugh, a cloud of dust, and a hearty "Hi-yo Silver!"
Once upon a time, there was a term for the kind of music that ran on those principles. In those hazy, denim-clad days of cigarette commercials and Richard Nixon, they called it progressive rock. Over the last couple of decades, though, from Tortoise to Battles and beyond, hipster panic has found such adventurous outings labeled as post-rock more often than not, but aren't we really just talking about the same thing here? While Radian Futura would undoubtedly sound right at home on Thrill Jockey, instead it comes to us courtesy of Cuneiform, the stalwart prog label that's been the home for everyone from the Muffins to so many Soft Machine side projects it would make your head spin. And for their part, the band themselves claim the likes of Henry Cow, King Crimson, and Magma as influences. So when Upsilon Acrux's all-instrumental attack kicks in, switching up meters, modes, and more at the drop of a hat, you know the world from whence it comes.
As Radian Futura makes abundantly clear, this is not the kind of outfit that throws in a simple, catchy tune for the sake of accessibility. In a newly rejiggered lineup of the band, Paul Lai and David Moeggenberg's guitars and Phil Cobb's synthesizer lines cross, dodge, and detonate against each other in so many different directions it's sometimes difficult to remember which way is up, but pretty much every direction feels like the right one. In the end, these compositions -- and they are carefully crafted compositions, not just some riffs and runs thrown together -- are like an elaborately arranged maze that you don't need to find your way out of in order to acheive satisfaction.
For their sixth album Radian Futura, Upsilon Acrux have further developed the strangely accessible, tap-heavy instrumental prog of their Cuneiform debut, Galapagos Momentum (2007). Like the proverbial phoenix, a completely new lineup (only guitarist/founder Paul Lai remains) has risen from the ashes of the old, this time augmenting the twin guitar/bass/drums format with keyboard bloops and whirs from ivory-tickler Phil Cobb (Bad Dudes). But the phoenix is really a friendly space robot propelled by rocket fuel that wants to give us a flying tour of its undiscovered nook of the universe. There are criss-crossing melodic laser beam guitars and anti-gravity basslines and stop-on-a-speck-of-cosmic-dust rhythmic changeups; there is also a fully composed 28-minute piece that provides way more stimuli in half an hour than an episode of Two and a Half Men. There’s a 180-gram vinyl version of Radian Futura coming out on Distile Records for those of you that prefer listening to your futuristic music on anachronistic media.
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