Prog - - Intro - MAL­COLM DOME [SUB POP, 1996]

It’s some­what sur­pris­ing to re­gard this al­bum as an el­lip­tic pro­gres­sive cas­cade, be­cause it comes from a man who had pre­vi­ously built his rep­u­ta­tion in Sunny Day Real Es­tate, a band who were among the pi­o­neers of the emo move­ment in the early 90s. When they split up in 1995, front­man Enigk took some­thing of a left field turn and in the process came up with this multi-faceted solo al­bum.

Much has been made of the fact that Re­turn Of The Frog Queen was recorded soon af­ter Enigk had con­verted to Chris­tian­ity, and there’s cer­tainly an in­flu­ence from that sit­u­a­tion on his lyri­cal stance here. You can sense that Enigk was reach­ing out, striv­ing to come to terms with an in­ward emo­tional tur­moil. But while it’s easy to in­ter­pret songs like Lizard and Ex­plain as in­tro­spec­tive, bring­ing into fo­cus the main man’s new per­spec­tive on life, this nonethe­less shouldn’t be seen as a record that’s only about a re­li­gious epiphany. You can still en­joy the com­po­si­tions on here with­out hav­ing any in­ter­est in Enigk’s per­sonal views on life or his be­lief sys­tem.

The mu­sic here is dark, but never bleak. The use of a string sec­tion, plus var­i­ous wind in­stru­ments, gives the tone a depth that draws the lis­tener in and keeps them ab­sorbed. There’s a res­tive spirit run­ning through the al­bum that tells of a man search­ing for an­swers. This makes the songs in­trigu­ing and ma­ture but also al­lows plenty of room to ma­noeu­vre. Enigk never clut­ters the sound, and in do­ing so gives him­self space for ex­plo­ration.

There are times when Syd Bar­rett and Peter Ham­mill come to mind. Yet, while both these gi­ants could some­times revel in chaos of their own cre­ation, what hap­pens here is that Enigk uses his own at­tempts to find a way through a maze of self­doubt to a dis­tinct artis­tic path. This means that he draws you into his world and keeps you en­thralled.

No song on Re­turn Of The Frog Queen is lengthy – Shade And The Black Hat is the long­est, and that’s un­der five min­utes – but brevity al­lows Enigk a chance to show how it’s pos­si­ble to turn even short com­po­si­tions into suites if you have the req­ui­site mu­si­cal tem­per­a­ment.

There’s a wide spec­trum of sound­scapes used through­out, which delve down clas­si­cal, jazz and melodic routes. At its best – on the ti­tle track, Car­ni­val and the afore­men­tioned Shade And The Black Hat – this is a re­mark­ably ar­tic­u­late al­bum that’s full of pro­gres­sive as­pi­ra­tion.

Engik went on to re­lease sev­eral more solo al­bums, the most re­cent be­ing 2017’s Ghosts. A re­mas­tered edi­tion of Re­turn Of The Frog Queen came out ear­lier this year, with bonus ma­te­rial added.

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