Debuts continue to hail down upon unsuspecting music-buyers; this goes for both mainstream and (even more so) indie music, which we're a part of. A debut disc by an unknown is a total crapshoot; it's not just about which numbers the dice turn up, but how one holds, shakes, and throws the dice. Fledgeling California, USA-based Prog Rock Records has rolled again, and come up with seven. PRR has signed roughly ten acts in the first third of 2003, and one of their newest signees is the enigmatic outfit, Zen Rock and Roll. End Of The Age will be caught in the tractor beam of any proglodyte with a fetish for extended pieces. Firmly in the 70s context of things, End Of The Age has but three tracks—long tracks: "Copernican Principle" (18:23); "From Melting Made" (10:30); and "End Of The Age" (16:20). Zen's influences range from Pink Floyd, Genesis and Camel, to Billy Thorpe, Tangerine Dream and Ashra. Melodic quality is not compromised by track length, with shifting meters, stylistic swings, and plenty of (wait for it) Mellotron (that word alone elevates sales potential by 500%). The Chris DeBurgh~Neil Young hybrid that they are, the vocals shouldn't have to undergo a witch trial, either. And for those who never tire of Jon Anderson's ambiguously cerebral lyrics, those found here fit the bill. A sample:
Haec tanta terrae moles nullam habet aestimationem/ad cali magnitudinem, Nemo veritas indocutes intret.
Sorry, couldn't resist. Lyrics are in English, that is only one of two instances, above. Long instrumental stretches dominate the second half of "Copernican Principle" with wonderful solos on analog-y patches beginning around 10:15, and requisite interplay between keys, guitar and [emulated] flute. The percussion is not organic, and minimally mechanical—it is programmed and well done. Drum patterns vary ad infinitum and invoke a very live feel—in some instances, there could be live drumming. Toward the end of this first, longest track, the keyboard melodies emulate Peter Bardens much more than Rick Wright.
Ah, the "short" track—"From Melting Made" (great title). It begins with the immortal Mellotron strings (in tune, so they're samples) and sweet Latimeresque guitar leading us in. This 2nd track sounds almost like it could have been recorded 2-˝ decades ago, except for the production. It has a somnolent (dreamy, not dragging) conviction, and the vocals are sung with enough conviction to not overtake the tune's vibe. Yes, the 'Tron strings are heard throughout the entire track, for the most part, and dashes of e-piano skip across the waves. The sixteen-minute title track could have been fused onto the end of "Melting" (perhaps it was one long track, separated), though it is thematically different by way of the lyrics. Speaking of the lyrics, they seem more impromptu, or stream-of-consciousness, than those of the first two tracks—I definitely prefer the lyrics of "Copernican Principle" over the other two.
The single most startling thing about Zen Rock and Roll is that they're not a band at all—ZR&R is the product of one man: Jonathan Saunders. Rob Higginbotham and Eric Gentry are credited with "thematic ideas" on "From Melting Made" and "End Of The Age," respectively. Still, the band is one Jon Saunders, which makes this all the more impressive. An impressive pastiche of modern & retro values!