Parallel or 90 Degrees

Unbranded: Music from the EEC Surplus

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Unbranded: Music from the E.E.C. Surplus is Parallel or 90 Degrees' fourth album (the fifth if one counts the pre-Po90 Peter Hammill tribute No More Travelling Chess). Andy Tillison Diskdrive remains in full command of the ship, writing all the material, singing, playing keyboards, producing, and even designing the booklet. The album is split in two parts. First, there are the five tracks that make the bulk of the CD, the "real thing." The music moves more and more toward straightforward rock with stretched song structures instead of complex progressive rock. This movement was initiated by the 1999 release The Time Capsule, and here finds a natural second phase. Like all of Po90's music, these songs require many listens before they can stick in one's memory. Tillison's writing is competent but somehow evanescent. The dual keyboards (the other player is Sam Baine) drive the music forward, backed by a rather linear rhythm section (Ken Senior on bass, Alex King on drums) that often feels programmed (even though it's not). Tillison's social and ecological concerns -- from brand-name clothes ("Unbranded") to the scrapyard quickly forming a ring around the Earth ("Space Junk") -- mark the lyrics. "Migraine" gets close to techno-rock; the others are atmospheric rock pieces with prog elements buried deep into the structure -- not neo-prog, but more like Roger Waters' music or even Genesis' Calling All Stations. The second part of the album is the 25-minute epic "An Autopsy in Artificial Light (Afterlifecycle Part 2)," a true progressive opus in the vein of the band's album Afterlifecycle. Presented as a bonus track, it is nonetheless the strongest and most engaging moment of this CD. As always with Po90, Unbranded: Music from the E.E.C. Surplus is not immediately likable, but fans will not be disappointed and the ones who prefer less complexity and theatricality, and more social commentary, in their progressive rock could become hooked on this band.

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