Review Summary: Serious music for people who don’t like serious music
Picture this scenario: three guys get together to knock back some beers and record some riffs. Once they put the pieces of music together they realise that they have a quirky progressive rock/metal sound. The guitarist of this “band” decides to record some vocals just for sh!ts and giggles. Since he’s had a couple of beer he thinks it would be hilarious to do a Robert Smith impression. His “bandmates” crack up, but decide it actually fits the music they’ve been making so they roll with it.
I have no idea how true any of the statements in the preceding paragraph are. I just made all of that up to explain the existence of Four Stroke Baron because I can only imagine that the band started life as an elaborate ironic joke—a joke that turned out to be more amusing than it had any right to be. They’ve already released a DIY EP and LP prior to this that flew almost completely under the radar. I say almost
because the LP, King Radio
, managed to get the attention of Prosthetic Records, who signed Four Stroke Baron, without them having ever played a show, and resulted in the recording of Planet Silver Screen
Now if you’re only just discovering Four Stroke Baron—and by the band’s own estimation, there’s close to a 1:100,000,000 chance that you aren’t
—then Planet Silver Screen
is probably the best way to discover them. Of all their releases thus far, this is the most accessible because it benefits from improved production and the reigning in of some of the the band’s quirkier impulses.
This isn’t to say that Four Stroke Baron have left all of their weirdness at the door. While Planet Silver Screen
may be less bizarre than Four Stroke Baron’s previous efforts, that distinction is purely relative. Make no mistake, this is a weird and nearly unclassifiable little record that pairs heavy modern progressive rock with new wave/post punk, seemingly inspired by the likes of Tears for Fears and The Cure, and touches of jazz and electronica, and somehow makes that insane fusion of styles work. It’s also, for the most part, a lean and mean album chock full of insanely catchy hooks and riffs, and widescreen soundscapes, that, just when you think you have the measure of it, throws curveballs like saxophone solos played by the likes of Jørgen Munkeby.
While most “prog” records feel weighed down by an inflated sense of self-importance, the last thing Four Stroke Baron are trying to do is take themselves seriously. This approach could have failed miserably if it didn’t seem so effortless. The first half of the album, consisting of the title-track, “Neon Person”, “Machine and Joy”, and a “Matter of Seconds”, is infectious and relatively straightforward. The songs groove and twist and turn in unexpected directions in a way that feels almost improvisational but are anchored by strong melodies and hooks.
The album isn’t all fun and games, however. Beginning with “7th of July” the band begins relying on atmosphere and, while groovy riffs still abound, soundscaping fills the second half of the album with an unsettling and almost ominous air that builds so gradually that you might not even notice it happening the first time you listen to the album. “Duplex”, which is the quietest song on the record, should, on paper, feel like a respite from the riffage that came before it with its clean guitars, laid-back synthesizer and flute melodies, and Pink Floyd-ian guitar solo, but it has an oppressive sense of concealed menace. All this eventually culminates in “Video Maniacs” which serves as the perfect summary of everything that went before it.
It is the mashing together of contradicting aesthetics that ultimately provide Four Stroke Baron and Planet Silver Screen
with their raison d’etre
. The band and their music are an experiment in finding ways to make elements that shouldn’t work, work, somehow. The band’s roots as a DIY studio project without the need for compromise of any kind has allowed its members to carve out a sonic niche that’s completely unique, for better or worse, and “progressive” in every sense of the word. Planet Silver Screen
finds Four Stroke Baron continuing to strive to defy convention, categorization and critique with equal aplomb while having fun doing it, and it’s hard to say that they are anything short of wildly successful.