Far Corner

Far Corner

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This eponymous debut from the Far Corner quartet is, at first glance, a surprising mature musical document, but three of the four members (keyboardist and chief composer Dan Maske, cellist Angela Schmidt and percussionist Craig Walkner) have music degrees from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and have clearly logged in some serious practice, rehearsal and performance time. The fourth member, bassist William Kopecky, has more than paid his dues in numerous prog rock bands and he displays impressive facility on his instrument. (He can also rock really hard, and provides a useful ground for the more ethereal tendencies of his academic colleagues.) The French goth rock band Univers Zero is a clear source of Far Corner's inspiration -- the inside cover of the CD has the band dressed in black, two members wearing shades, posed in front of some sort of crumbling concrete "ruin," (an obvious gesture toward the group shot on Univers Zero's infamous 1979 recording, Heresie). But whereas Univers Zero is primarily dark and relentless, Far Corner is that and then some -- arguably demonstrating more sophisticated compositional skills and perhaps greater command of their instruments than the original Univers Zero aggregation. Bass and drums frequently lock together for the signature bottom-heavy fusion sound known as "zheul" to old Magma and Univers Zero fans, while Schmidt's amplified cello alternately scrapes and stutters or sometimes further anchors the bottom end. Maske's minor key Hammond organ, especially, can lend just the right amount of gloomy cathedral ambience, and Kopecky soars on some tracks with a moaning slap-bass ("fretless & fretful," as he puts it) that is often downright funky. And he can really make his bass sing, elevating it periodically to the status of a lead instrument. One of the pitfalls of the goth prog genre, as its detractors often observe, is that the jabbing, intricate ensemble work and the restless chromatic wandering from key signature to key signature has a built-in tendency toward abstraction, turning goth rock into math rock and eventually challenging the listener's endurance. But Far Corner alters the formula in a number of effective ways, first inserting a three-part free improvisation, "Something Out There," into the program and then later tweaking the ensemble mix with a dominant piano role on "The Turning," and on the long closing track "Fiction" moving away from the tight ensemble work and breaking out the individual instruments to a greater extent. The first and third sections of "Something Out There" are spiky and atmospheric, but the middle section is riff-based, and it features some spirited, rock-ish interplay between Walkner's percussion and Maske's solid Hammond groove. This is not only a very accomplished recording -- it's a very entertaining one.

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