Review Summary: Disparate disconnected conditions connected coherently.
This tiny, independent American prog-duo have been lovingly crafting their music since 2009. While managing to release albums at quite a frantic rate during the start of their Disconnect project the pair seem to have taken a more measured approach for their latest release and it has been roughly two years since they came of age on the dark, dense and powerful 'Enough Blame To Around'. Their music has drawn on a slew of influences ranging from some of the more eclectic '70s prog bands through to heavy prog giants such as Rush but there has always been a healthy dose of contemporary energy injected into the mix and 'Planned Obsolescence' is no different in that respect. What IS different about this recording is that the compositions sound far more mature and considered, with musical ideas given time to breathe and develop. It all comes across as rather less frantic and the 'less is more' approach evident throughout the compositions, especially the extended pieces, lends the album a more assured feel than before.
The expert blending of appealing melodies with odd time signatures and jarring polyrhythmic passages is a trick that King Crimson mastered long, long ago. There is little doubt that Disconnect have worshipped at the shrine of the chaos lord Robert Fripp at some point throughout their career and there is certainly a Crimson-esque element to some of the music. The ghost of Discipline era Crimson was obviously haunting the recording studio during 'I Am The Memory' with its bold sonic tapestry, undulating bass rhythms and subtly mutating guitar arpeggios. But it would be unfair to focus on these influences too much as there is so much more going on that lends the music a character of its own. Momentum inducing rhythmic sections and jarring expositions are syncopated with joyful guitar breaks, soaring choruses and haunting Oberheim-like synth sections. Other big wins on here include the schizophrenic instrumental 'The Pedestrian Hobby' with soft pastoral shades erupting into furiously chaotic interplays of drum, organ and guitar and the atmospheric closer 'Reprieve' with its soft ambient textures, chugging demonic riffs and impassioned crescendo.
The guitar work, courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Erich O'Dell, is excellent throughout. Whether he is coaxing out sweet lilting arpeggios, delivering crunchy atonal sonic attacks or shredding for all he is worth the results are always convincing. Not to be outdone, Brian Eschrich holds everything together remarkably well on the sticks. The chap seems to have chameleon like qualities as he seamlessly veers from intricate jazz inspired rhythms to thunderous thumping of near Bonham-like proportions. Eschrich is also responsible for keyboards and these play a larger role in proceedings than on previous offerings. The heavy prog riffing is still present and correct and some of the musical passages are actually quite brutal but the extra layer of atmosphere imbued by the keyboard textures this time around seem to be the final piece in the sonic jigsaw. There is a very large palette of keyboard sounds on here ranging from the aforementioned mournful Oberheim flavoured passages, Moog type sounds and '80s style neo-prog flurries through to swirly Rhodes and jazzy piano.
There are a few instances where Disconnect lose their way a little on here. For instance, the first section of 'Relevance' doesn't really work with its, admittedly quite endearing, Roger Waters vocal impersonations and awkward melodies. But even here the guys rescue the day with some great heavy prog riffing and cutting lead guitar passages further in. Furthermore, the vocals may be an acquired taste for some people. But it would be churlish to quibble too much about the odd misstep here and there. With bold experimentation comes the risk of missing the mark on occasion and indeed one man's blemish is another man's beauty spot. Taken as a whole this is a very entertaining release with masterful instrumental work and enough variety to keep the listener enthralled. The ample flirtations with pleasing melody and the morass of aural textures are enough to reel you in on a first sampling but it's the more subtle qualities of the music that shine through on repeated listens. Disconnect haven't released their masterpiece quite yet but they are definitely on the right track.