Music Reviews

Artist: The Phineas Incarnation (@)
Title: Liquid Karma
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
The Phineas Incarnation is Phineas Brady from Iowa City, Iowa, and 'Liquid Karma' is his project's debut album. He calls it Progressive Metal/Ambient, but that's not exactly the genre(s) I would place it in. There's no doubt the music on 'Liquid Karma' is progressive, but metal, I think not. To me, for metal you need guitar(s), and there are none here, as it's all synths & drums. Progressive jazz electronica might be a better tag. Two things should be noted- Brady is only 17, and he's a drummer. You'd know the latter immediately upon hearing this, but you'd never know the former without reading about him. For a teenager, this work is an astounding feat, but I don't judge by age, only talent, which Phineas seems to have in abundance. He makes no bones that 'Liquid Karma' was enabled by Reason 6.0, but who isn't using some sort of computer software these days to realize their electronic musical visions. The Phineas Incarnation uses a lot of arpeggiation on 'Liquid Karma'; in fact, that's the main modus operadi employed with the synths, not exclusively, but it's presence is a major factor in the music. As for the drumming, I'm not sure if it's actually played, programmed, or a combination of the two. One thing is certain, he's quite adept at it whatever the case.

The album consits of 9 tracks with a unifying theme- "the concept of eternal motion; the cycle of cosmic growth and decay, evolution and involution." The album opens with "Void: Emergence" with light, sequenced synths (some arpeggiated, of course) before the ferocious proggy drumming comes in. The timing nuances are impressive, and so is the compositional quality of this opening track. "Void: Design" takes it even further into prog-jazz-rock territory, this time the sequenced sythn seems less arpeggiated but has a mechanical element to begin with. Other melodic lines grow out of it, with a stuttery bass holding down the bottom. Phineas brings it into breakbeat territory (old school, I might add) after a ferocious drum battery then melodic synth pads support the piano-like arpeggios of the melody. All the while interesting time changes are taking place but only support, never subvert the melody. I've heard may a keyboard-oriented prog-rock band that aren't half as good as this! "Life: Quasimortality" opens with a rapid blippy arpeggio over subtle synth pad before some hard prog cooking. Phineas uses bass more as accenting stabs than a bass player would normally do. The track goes through a variety of rhythmic and synth changes playing with dissonace, yet retaining a melodic quality. One thing I noticed - Phineas seems to love cymbal bashing almost as much as Keith Moon at times. There's a portion on this track where a pretty synth arpeggio melody backed by organ presents a very lovely passage. The drums lay out for "Life: One Becomes Two" with beautiful ambient synth pads and the eventual arpeggios, which is the only rhythmic component in the track. "Life: The Divine Paradox" begins with an urgently climbing bass sounding like a later day King Crimson rhythm section jam session. Phineas adds ascending piano chords with a following synth to the mix then stops cold and synth arpeggio, synth pads stutter-bass take it in a different direction, yet still ascending until it stops. Then crazy fast arpeggios, sample and hold style, herald in the next section, like ELP's 'Tarkus' but twice as fast. Jeez- where'd that come from?

Fortunately, Phineas slows it down a tad for "Life: Birth of Omniscience" with some calming ambient synth pads. The calm doesn't last for long though as weird breakbeat percussive elements emulate strange creatures. The cymbals keeping time on the downbeat weren't particularly to my likeing here; I would have chosen something else. More sequenced arpeggios lead into the next (heavier) section, then a very prog-rock section interspersed with, and finally concluding on ambient synth pads. After some introductory synth arpeggio "Truth: Ego Death" begins hard and heavy with a rabid, bass-led killer progression, dissolving momentarily into dreamy arpeggios, then blasts back into rapid sequencing with high speed locomotive drumming, and a light little melody line. Seems incongruous, but it works. After a strange staccato break, the track finds it's happy place in a pretty mid-tempo pattern, and ironically enough, I'm reminded of Happy the Man here. It's really sweet. Phineas builds some nice tension with a rhythmic single note sequence with a prog-jazz melody laid over the top. Ambient pads add nice texture, then it fades into wind-chimey ambience which carries through to the end. Final track, "Truth: I, Infinity" begins with machine-gun sequenced synth before going into some crazy alternating ascending/descending synth lines, then calms down with some beautiful synth pads before the drums come in. The track then proceeds to go through a variety of progressions and changes before drifiting out on a cloud of tonal ambience. Wow!

It's hard to imagine another band or artist that could achieve this. Think Bill Bruford and Philip Glass with synths programmed by Larry Fast and Tony Levin sitting in on bass. Then again, this is sui gereris, it's own duck so to speak. While 'Liquid Karma' is a remarkable achievement that all who enjoy progressive electronica should hear, there are a few things I would advise The Phineas Incarnation to consider in its next outing. Lay back on the crash cymbals in keeping time; cut down on arpeggios for melodic content and and use more non-repetitive melodies; and give the bass more melodic freedom. This kid is on fire though, and his next work is likely to burn down the house!

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