Titan - A Raining Sun of Light and Love For You and You and You.
(TeePee Records) Keith Boyd 02.15.07
The new disc from Titan is truly a Trojan Horse of Prog-Rock proportions. Just like the Trojan Horse, at first glance you think you're dealing with something kind of cute. The acoustic guitar shuffles into hearing range with a warbling Donovan/Devendra-esque voice singsonging some super sappy lyrics. You start to relax and go with the Hippy flow. And then, just when you think all is well and drag the damn thing inside the gates, the Greeks bust out, start chopping off heads and burning the place down!
It's a continuous mystery to me how Rock music always seems to be able to reinvent itself. Just when you think that every riff has been wrung from the electric guitar that could possibly happen someone steps up and shows you how wrong you can be. Sure some of these "reinventions" are nothing more than revivalism with new set of clothing. But even the most overt re-interpreters (think Oasis or The Black Crows) can both charm and shed light on aspects of the "original" that you hadn't noticed before. I'm always down with hearing every new generation's version of the Rock gospel. Perhaps one of the oddest rebirthing to come along in recent years is, for lack of a better phrase, the underground progressive rock thing. Acts such as The Mars Volta, Earthling Society, White Hills and hell even mainstreamers like Radiohead have all heard the clarion call of Prog and responded in kind.
Long confined to the great dusty record bin in the sky, Prog and more to the point, the various tropes of Prog are popping again. Just what is this sound and what are these tropes? Well it's a mishmash really. The obvious touchstones are complex and long song structures, technical virtuosity, heavy use of synths/keyboards, high flying operatic vocals and a propensity towards concept pieces or thematic stories. Think Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Van Der Graf Generator. Think King Crimson and Magma. Think Rush. Think Yes. On the lighter side think Electric Light Orchestra or Kansas . Even from this sample I'm sure you can see that Prog doesn't mean one thing. It essentially signifies an approach rather than an outcome. Prog's bad name came from its own worst excesses. Ten minute drum solos followed by 20 minute Moog and keyboard solos followed by dueling guitar solos followed by weirdo Sci-Fi poetry delivered in fey operatic multi-part harmonies. It all got a bit much and reached a boiling point that gave rise to Punk and sent everyone back to the two minute, three chord screamer. While this turn of events was by all accounts a good thing, many of today's underground acts are obviously of the opinion that we might have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. This is where Titan fits in and is a big part of what makes their new disc so great.
Once you're past the aforementioned Trojan Horse intro, the Prog action kicks into high-gear and never really lets up. The opening track, "Annals of the Former World" is a case in point. This ten minute epic is an Acid Mother's mashup that is so intense and muscular in sound you find yourself checking the speakers for signs of meltdown. The lads in Titan have found that wonderful, eye of the storm sweet spot and milk it to galaxies unknown to waking hours. They've seemingly mastered the ability to play with ferocious intensity, freak-out abandon and yet stay tight and on the punchy side. It's a wonder to behold really. The only comparable things I think of are the massive fight scenes in Kurasawa's "Seven Samurai". You get that same sense that in any other hands all hell would break loose and you simply be left with smoking shards. The fact that it doesn't speaks volumes about the tasteful restraint yet complete commitment that makes Prog so exciting. Titan keeps things varied on this disc and that simply adds to the pleasure. Over it's course we get stoney, orientalist fantasies ("Hashishin Ohel") and Krautrocking, Neu!/Can Groovers ("Aufruf der Pilze"). There's a little something for everyone but Titan never commit the sin of trying to simply please everyone. Much like Earthling Society, they've taken some Prog elements and filtered it through their own underground sensibilities. They aren't ignoring that Punk happened. They aren't turning away from the Electronica revolution. They're embracing all of it and in doing so have churned out a winner. This great disc is not only more proof of Rock's ability to reinvent and revitalize itself, it's just damn good music.