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Parmenter, Matthew: Astray

Former Discipline vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Matthew Parmenter finally surfaces with a new solo album titled Astray, a dark amd moody exploration into melancholia. How different is the music included here compared to his old band? Honestly, not much, and that should please a lot of people who were fans of the Van Der Graaf Generator inspired sounds of Discipline. Parmemter's songs on Astray drip with angst, despair, and drama, and with the exception of bass played by Mathew Kennedy, Parmenter plays all the instruments.

The opening cut "Now", is a song of deep isolation, lonliness, and sorrow, sung perfectly by Parmenter, and supported by haunting keyboards, including gobs of Mellotron. A similarly dark musical theme pops up on "Distracted", but things lighten up a bit on "Dirty Mind", a song that contains some jazzy piano, fuzz guitar, and leering lyrics about a sex starved individual who looks for his desires in all the wrong places. Songs like "Another Vision" and "Some Fear Growing Old" have a certain Genesis like feel to them, but both tend to meander a bit and sound too similar, while "Between Me and the End" is a pretty depressing tune, as Parmenter wails his tortured lament complemented by piano and sax. It's not until the final, 21-minute epic "Modern Times" that things kick back into high gear, as this track brings back the Mellotron and jagged guitar lines that are so prevalent on the earlier part of the CD. Hints of VDGG, Genesis, King Crimson, and Gentle Giant can be heard on this extended journey, as the mood and tempo twists and changes many times over the course of its lengthy run. Check out the manic and heavy section nearly half-way through the tune, with complex guitars & bass pounding relentlessly while haunting Mellotron cascades in the background. Parmenter does his best Peter Hammill on this one, ranging from quiet whispers to chilling bursts of angst.

In summary, an uneven work, but some really good material is presented here despite the few tracks that are just too dark for their own good. Many of the songs might be too depressing for some casual listeners, but fans of Parmenter's music should be thrilled that the man is back in the spotlight once again. I still give this a postive thumbs up, as their are at least four exceptional songs here out of the seven.

Added: April 5th 2005
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Strung Out Records
Hits: 3471
Language: english

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Parmenter, Matthew: Astray
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-04-05 20:09:18
My Score:

Matthew Parmenter's first solo album Astray is the ultimate melting pot of dark, deep and heavily introspective songwriting. Parmenter is American underground prog band Discipline's frontman, but Discipline hasn't released any albums since 1997 if I'm not mistaken. I was rather surprised to find out Parmenter had returned with a brooding solo offering titled Astray, which proves to be a significant improvement in many ways. Not only that, but it is also a true 'solo' album in the way that Matthew Parmenter basically plays every instrument except the bass. He sings, plays the piano, guitar, drums, saxophone, violin, organ, synths, mellotron and a number of other instruments. His Discipline bandmate Matthew Kennedy accompanies him with his subtle bass lines. Parmenter recorded, mixed, produced and engineered Astral as well. The outcome is brilliant and his diversity has to be respected.

"Now" welcomes the listener with a strangely beautiful piano melody that creeps into the song mixing with jazzy drumming. Parmenter's drum work is nothing short of brilliant. The way he plays with the cymbals and gives more emphasis on content rather than technique is nicely displayed here. His singing seems different; more mature in a way. There is a distinct Peter Hamill feel to be found but the music is more in the league of Gabriel-era Genesis. Brief guitar lines run underneath the dark atmosphere of the song with fat, pulsing bass throbs. All these overlapped instruments are blended to give the mosaic of "Now" its final character. I had to hear this track five times in a row before I could move on to the next song, and I must say it's still my favourite on the CD along with the 21-minute "Modern Times". The momentum is reduced as "Distracted" and "Dirty Mind" work their way through the clutter of the record. More jazz piano and an improvised instrumental section become the focal point of the songs displaying a varied complexity throughout the music. I am strangely reminded of another indie band, maudlin of the Well, while listening to parts of Astray. It must be the way the classical formation is amalgamated with free-style jazz. No one else may agree about this comparison though. The guitar work on "Dirty Mind" is very bluesy in context and it works impeccably.

A tired organ opens "Another Vision" with blurry drumming in the far edge of the mix. Parmenter's fragile vocals are delicately layered over the composition and all you have to do is close your eyes and be drawn by the intensity of his singing. By the time the song reaches its finale, you are fully convinced that Parmenter has certainly entered a realm of maturity. This is progressive music gone dark, without relying on the 'neo' tag as the music presented here sounds surprisingly fresh despite being 70's inspired. The protagonist in "Some Fear Growing Old" invites the listener to enter his mind for a moment to observe his inner conflicts about getting old. The opaque acoustic guitar complements the gloom leaving its place for a sad violin piece towards the end. Matthew Parmenter guested on Tiles' two albums before playing violin, but it sounds totally different here. "Between Me and the End" features keys and guitars sparkling without being uplifting. This song is blessed with a truly standout performance. Parmenter's singing becomes even more haunting here. The album closer "Modern Times" is easily the climax of the whole record. It kicks in with a slow, dragging and morose melody. Suddenly, 7 minutes into the song, the song explodes into a funk-driven post-psychedelia heavily centred on the bass guitar. Actually on each song, there is a moment where each instrument is pushed forward so it can shine through and add to the composition, but the bass is simply phenomenal. It drives the song forward, carries it, and never fails to add to the sinister mood. Parmenter continues to generate fresh ideas on the guitar with picking style on acoustic and electric respectively. There is even a brief synth solo at the end which oddly fits in nicely. The writing is cohesive, structured, but by no means forced. A very good ending to a very good record indeed. The booklet, packaging, lyrics and artwork are a great representation of the music this album contains. Every Progressive Rock fan needs to hear this.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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