16 September 2010

CD REVIEW: The Rebel Wheel - We are in the Time of Evil Clocks (2010, 10T Records)

The Rebel Wheel holds a special place among the bands I’ve reviewed over my ‘career’ as a progressive music writer. They are the only band I have reviewed a ‘debut’ album for twice, with different tracks listings for both reviews.

I can explain.

When I first discovered The Rebel Wheel, they were releasing their album
Diagramma privately. I was offered a copy for review purposes, which I gladly accepted. I still have that review, and I’m thinking of posting it later today as a retro review for y’all. Not long after this, however, the band was picked up by 10T Records, who wanted to reissue this album. I was pleased as punch for them; it’s cool watching a band ‘grow up’ before your eyes and I told their then bassist, Gary Lauzon, as much. What happened next caught me off guard. First, 10T wanted a longer album; Diagramma came in around 44 minutes, and they wanted something closer to an hour. Second, somewhere along the line it was requested that the private release version review be pulled. I don’t remember the particulars of that. In any event, 10T reissued the album, and I reviewed it a second time, this time focusing only on the newly recorded/added tracks.

Since then, changes. Loads of changes. Bassists galore. Keyboardists. Drummers, if I recall correctly. Just about every slot changed hands save for founder David Campbell, who captained the ship through some very chaotic waters. In the end, he pulled in a bunch of able bodied musicians, and put together a follow up, titled We are in the Time of Evil Clocks. The title comes from a story Campbell’s son came up with when he was just 10 years old, and I’d leave it up to him to retell it, because he does it very well. All I’ll say is that the evil clock in question gets punished in the end with a career at WalMart and leave it at that.

In any event, on with the review!

It’s appropriate that we open with a title track. ‘We Are In The Time Of Evil Clocks’ begins with some very cool faux-industrial synth sounds, with an elastic bass line and angular guitar chords battling it out for supremacy. Angie MacIvor’s sax adds in a cool and woefully under-used in today’s prog musical voice. Mostly instrumental, the vocal sections offer brief placidity and respite from the weird and wild musical bits that build around it. It slowly fades into ‘Klak,’ another weird and angular sounding piece, much more vocally oriented. Campbell’s vocals are processed, sounding impossibly distant on some sections, close and personal on others. The words were taken from a pair of poems written by Geordie Robertson; as Campbell recollects…

“Progressive Ears is probably the only web-site I actually spend a lot of time with and through it I have met many interesting and very cool people. There was a thread on it awhile back where a several poets and people of a similar bent, posted their surrealistic stuff. There was a wealth of stuff and one in particular really struck me as a perfect song lyric.

I approached the author, Geordie Robertson, about using the words in a song and he gladly agreed. I also asked him if he had others and he sent me a batch. I wrote Klak using the original poem that caught my eye and also added another that he subsequently sent, as the chorus.”

There’s great bass playing and some wonderfully lyrical sax work as well. While the song feels brief, there’s a lot of ideas going on within its boundaries.

‘Wordplay’ is our first extended piece. Clocking in at 8:21, it opens with some clean, almost jazzy guitar, with a quietly pulsing, heartbeat like drum pattern under it. The bassline is simple, yet beautiful, and with MacIvor’s vocals come in, the smoky jazz club feel is complete. It’s nice to hear a female vocalist who is not mimicking Annie Haslam or Kate Bush; MacIvor’s voice is throatier, a bit raspier, with a lovely alto tone that really suits the music wonderfully. There’s plenty of time and space for the band to explorw on this piece, and while the mood remains pretty consistent, there are several very impressive extended instrumental sections to allow Campbell, bassist Claude Prince, and MacIvor to stretch out on their instruments. I love the groove…perhaps more than might be legal in some states. It’s a hot tune, and one that really shows off what the band is capable of.

The centrepiece of this album is the 30-minute, 7-part epic ‘The Discovery of Witchcraft.’ The title is drawn from The Discoverie of Witchcraft, written by Reginald Scot, an English country gentleman and Member of Parliament to show that witchcraft did not exist. This was a launching point for Campbell and the rest of The Rebel Wheel, who take this idea and run with it like no one else possibly could. Alternating sections careen wildly from out there, angular, Crimsoid prog to plaintive and eerie acoustic balladry. The ‘Hag’ sections are amazingly gorgeous, with MacIvor’s vocals quiet, mysterious, perfect for the song. The restrained, limited musical backing for these pieces adds to the mystery and the mood. Other instrumental bits feature the same intense material heard throughout much of the album.

I want to call special attention to part 5, ‘Invitation To The Dance,’ which for some reason I continue to think of as the band’s Canterbury section. It doesn’t at all sound Canterbury, but the heavy jazz influence heard here, along with some of the way the instruments lock and play with each other, reminds me of the fusiony side of Canterbury so much that I can’t help it. Every time it comes on I sing along to the melody line, bounce in my seat, and think ‘It’s Canterbury time!’ Sorry guys (and girl)…I may have ruined it for you, but I love it. I really do. In an epic that doesn’t feel like something overstaying it’s welcome, it’s my favourite 4 and a half minutes. And that’s saying something.

I loved Diagramma when it came out. I loved it when it came out again. And We are in the Time of Evil Clocks knocks that album all over the place. It’s tighter (and looser), more expansive yet more refined. The changes in the band have not weakened The Rebel Wheel; if anything, they’ve been a crucible that has reforged the group and made their efforts stronger and keener. If you haven’t guessed by this point that I love this album, perhaps I need to be clearer. I love this album, and I think…no, I know…you will, too. Original, but with a respectful eye to the past, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Angie MacIvor (saxes, vocals and keyboards)
David Campbell (guitars, vocals, bass and keyboards)
Guy Dagenais (bass and vocals)
Aaron Clark (drums and percussion)

1. We Are In The Time Of Evil Clocks 6:30
2. Klak 5:31
3. Wordplay 8:21
4. Scales Of The Ebony Fish 5:33
5. Settling Of Bones 4:52

The Discovery of Witchcraft (30:26)
6. Convent 5:37
7. Hags 2:36
8. Mad Night 6:38
9. Hags 2 2:25
10. Invitation To The Dance 4:26
11. Hags 3 2:25
12. Cavort 2:47

13. Evil Clocks 2 2:47

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