sgt.
Stylus Fantasticus


3.5
great

Review

by Adam Downer STAFF
October 17th, 2008 | 26 replies


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sick Japanese post rock jams, plain and simple.

Even though it’s a great tool for getting the hype machine in motion for an up and coming act, “the breath of fresh air” tag is something of a dubious honor. For one, it’s an admittance that the kind of music said act plays has grown stale and tired, and secondly, it instills a certain expectation in the band’s target audience that this group will be the revolutionary force (inset lame genre tag here) needs. On their sprawling debut Stylus Fantasticus, Japanese trio sgt. may not quite prove themselves to be such a force, but they certainly prove themselves to be a group with a refreshingly interesting take on the increasingly tired post rock genre. Instead of participating in the laborious techniques of their peers, sgt. attacks with spontaneity and a heavy penchant for improvisation, making Stylus Fantasticus something of a refreshing oddity. It’s as though sgt. aren’t so much composing epic pieces as they are jamming in a studio and recording it. The results are predictably hit or miss, but when sgt. hits, the unique and memorable sound buoys Stylus Fantasticus to great heights, even if it can’t quite stay there for the whole fifty-five minutes.

Even though it apparently falls under post rock’s ever-growing umbrella, Stylus Fantasticus takes a heavy influence from modern prog, giving the record a harder base than its contemporaries. Instead of epic dynamic contrasts and gorgeous repeated phrases, the album instead runs at a more frenzied pace, allowing constant melody and ace rhythm performances to form eight tracks of instrumental chaos. Stylus Fantasticus runs in a very specific frame: Each song develops a drum and bass theme (courtesy of the excellent Kouji Akashi and Hitoshi Ono), which in turn provides a solid foundation for violinist/pianist Mikiko Narui to build melodies that practically engulf the listener in sgt.’s sound. The opening track “Magnificent Light” serves as a great example of this by incorporating gorgeous piano playing over a jagged guitar base for four minutes of relaxed, carefree jamming. It serves as a fine preclude for the beast that follows, the asymmetrical blazer “The dilemma-game of snatched people.” Unlike the preceding track, “Dilemma-game” utilizes sgt.’s immensely talented rhythm section to run at a furious clip for 6 minutes, officially kicking off Stylus Fantasticus and introducing the world to sgt.'s definite skill at free-flowing improvisational mayhem.

That mayhem comprises a good chunk of Stylus Fantasticus, usually with solid results. For example, later on in the record, sgt. strikes a perfect blend of laissez-faire instrumental and song crafting with the stunning “Destroy the Galaxy, Create the Power Plant.” Working through four separate themes, each equally as impressive as the last, “Destroy the Galaxy…” proves the closest thing to outright songwriting sgt. approaches on Stylus Fantasticus, and it’s great stuff. The first theme is a series of beautiful series of violin phrases over a catchy-as-fuck bass line for a good six minutes before sgt. take the song into a mesmerizingly minimalist second movement, a calm-before-the-storm type section which lulls the listener into a sort of stupor. This sets up the song’s third phase, a riotous bridge that threatens to lose control at any moment (and does), before capping it all off with a fourth left turn into a grand conclusion, blasting everything that came before it away. Even at an intimidating sixteen minutes “Destroy the Galaxy…” easily stands out as the best track sgt. offer on Stylus Fantasticus. It’s pieced together carefully, each movement serving its own purpose to creating a fantastic song as a whole. Though sgt. mostly goes with the flow on Stylus Fantasticus, the attention to detail that elevates “Destroy the Galaxy” above the rest of the songs makes it clear that sgt. can write a damn great song when they want to, and as the record progresses, the correlation between sgt.’s compositional merit and success becomes more and more evident.

While the carefree improvisations that dominate a good chunk of Stylus Fantasticus can be refreshing, sgt.’s adherence to formula proves the album’s greatest plague. For example, after a blistering opening two tracks, Stylus bogs down immensely with a series of seemingly directionless jams that pass almost unnoticed until “Destroy the Galaxy” comes to resuscitate Stylus Fantasticus. There’s nothing outright wrong with these tracks, it's just that sgt. do everything so much better at the bookends. For example, the jazzed out rock of “The moon of Remembrance Island” is easily bested by the album’s scorching finale, “Fluctuation of the Nothing,” and every idea explored in the meandering middle is obliterated by the epic “Destroy the Galaxy.” Though none of these tracks irreversibly kill the flow of Stylus Fantasticus, they serve to show sgt. hasn’t quite yet realized their full potential, giving the record something of a bitter aftertaste; one can feel that the album, despite being solid overall, could be so much better.

In the end, Stylus Fantasticus might not be the white horse for sgt. to ride in on when it saves post rock, and it certainly doesn’t merit The Silent Ballet’s claim that sgt. is “The Best Japanese Band Ever.” However, it is an invigorating take on a genre quickly running low on vigor. Listening to the asymmetrical chaos of “The dilemma-game of snatched people” is enough to get anyone excited over the sound sgt. has developed, and that improvisational que sera, sera attitude seethes from the majority of Stylus Fantasticus. Even though that attitude sometimes leads sgt. down roads better left untraveled, the successes far outweigh the “whatever” tracks, and despite its flaws, Stylus Fantasticus is an impressive and unique entry in a genre short on impressive and unique acts.



Recent reviews by this author
Beach Slang Cheap Thrills On A Dead End StreetThe Men Tomorrow's Hits
Macintosh Plus FLORAL SHOPPEThe Dismemberment Plan Uncanney Valley
Justin Timberlake The 20/20 ExperienceThe Men New Moon
user ratings (28)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah so I used the english translations of the song titles. The english tracklist looks like this:

1. Magnificent Light 3:49 
2. The dilemma-game of snached people 6:16 
3. White Night 6:00 
4. The way of Figure out with Voices 6:27 
5. Resuscitations & Secret room 6:15 
6. The moon of Remembrance island 2:05
7. Destroy the galaxy, Create the power plant 16:42 
8. Fluctuation of the Nothing 9:47


Also I found this review really hard to write, whether it's because I have a cold and tons of calculus homework, or maybe just a case of writer's block. Either way, this is my only review ever that's taken me more than one day to write, enjoy.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


17939 Comments


talk about how post rock is becoming tired and then criticize sgt. for not having more generic 'climax' post rock tracks, nice

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

That's not what I do at all but ok thanks for the constructive criticism chan

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


17939 Comments


that's the vibe i got from this review, you're welcome.

Bleak123
October 17th 2008


1902 Comments


post rock is most certainly getting tiring

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I don't know where you're getting that viber from, Chan. One of the main points of this review is that the improvisation is cool but sometimes loses focus and becomes boring, nowhere do I say they should have more epic climaxes. I just say that the best songs here strike a good blend between song construction and improvisational freedom. This Message Edited On 10.17.08

Elixirs
October 17th 2008


93 Comments


dude ec you're such a bad liar

Athom
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


17224 Comments


Such a damn good album. There isn't a bad track on the album, but I can see why you wouldn't necessarily like the more free-flowing tracks.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


17939 Comments


you spend the bulk of the review praising a single song that from your description sounds as if it is based on crescendos/climaxes which are staples of post rock and then criticize the other songs that do something different. it just seemed to me from reading this review that if the other songs had those traditional post rock elements that you would have liked them more, sorry if i misinterpreted you i guess.

post rock is most certainly getting tiring


i wasn't disputing that. i don't need to read it in every review though.

HighandDriving
October 17th 2008


3288 Comments


I need to check this out.

Bleak123
October 17th 2008


1902 Comments


i wasn't disputing that. i don't need to read it in every review though.

i never meant to suggest you were. also i agree. its the same when im reading metalcore reviews.


Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

you spend the bulk of the review praising a single song that from your description sounds as if it is based on crescendos/climaxes which are staples of post rock and then criticize the other songs that do something different. it just seemed to me from reading this review that if the other songs had those traditional post rock elements that you would have liked them more


I suppose I could have gone into detail about the free flowing tracks I did like (which are the first two and last two), but I state in the review that the first two and last two tracks are the ones that are the best and the middle is where it has problems. I suppose I could have emphasized the positives more but too late now.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


17939 Comments


are you a three days grace fan

it's not too late, it's never too late

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I am not but I am aware of the song you are quoting

Doppelganger
October 17th 2008


3124 Comments


i LOVE all of those things so i guess i will LOVE this

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

ok i dropped in some more words hopefully that makes my point a little clearer.

edit: and wrote a new summaryThis Message Edited On 10.17.08

natey
October 17th 2008


4170 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

gave this a small listen once and didn't get hooked. I bet it's better then I think though, so I'll listen again.

Kage
October 17th 2008


1172 Comments


this is certainly not a crash course on improvisation

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
October 17th 2008


2806 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

^this. Still an awesome album. "Destroy the Galaxy" is one of my favorite songs of the year. Oh so good.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 17th 2008


15743 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

ughhhhhh i know the summary is giving me trouble



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2014 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy