Wave Mechanics Union
   
Second Season
   
   

Release Date: October 01, 2008
Produced by: Ryan Fraley, Ralph Johnson, Lydia McAdams
Format: CD

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02/20/2009
Mark Squirek


 

Moving classic rock and progressive rock into the world of jazz and big bands is a very risky proposition. More often than not the results of those who try to cross genres end up sounding like you have just entered into an elevator going up to the 13th floor of nowhere. Many have tried to link jazz and rock, but few have succeeded as well as Wave Mechanics Union has. Second Season is a stunning (here is the big word for today) re-conceptualization of rock warhorses like Won’t Get Fooled Again, Killer Queen, The Rain Song and Eleanor Rigby. They also cover songs by Rush, They Might Be Giants, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Why did WMU succeed where so many others have failed?

First, they choose songs that were strong to begin with. Lydia McAdams, Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson, the forces behind this release, know that in order to build something new and exciting you have to have a strong foundation. They assembled a song list that gave them room to move in as well as the opportunity to find something new. Secondly, they created arrangements that defy listener’s expectations instead of following the familiar. Lastly, they clearly love what they are doing.

Opening with a cut as well known as Won’t Get Fooled Again says a lot about the musical crew at hand. By choosing a song that almost everyone of us have heard a thousand or more times, a song that holds almost a DNA-level of familiarity, they immediately challenge the listener’s pre-conceptions. It is almost as if they are daring themselves to fail and get right on the elevator to nowhere.

They don’t fail. On any level. The song opens with the traditional burst but quickly takes the familiar synthesizer line and messes it up. Woodwinds and horns are bouncing back and forth. They quickly descend into a simple piano line which encapsulates the melody we are all so used to. Within one minute the song is torn apart and put back together in front of our ears.

As the vocalist, McAdams moves from the original’s defiant and anthemic tone to a meditation on the certainty of purpose. Instead of closing the verses with a scream, she moves into a slight dream world that is in marked contrast to the forward motion of the rest of the arrangement. The music seems to pause, and than decides to follow her.  

Nowhere is this more clear than on the famous “hypnotized never lie” lyric of the middle eight. Right after she trails off, the confusion of the song is reflected in a fractured arrangement that relies on muted trumpets that than open into a piano-led late night nightclub swing. Near the end, as the song dips into the famous synthesizer swirl of Daltrey stomping inside lasers and clouds, WMU return to woodwinds and horns to as the drums kick everything back into the opening dance.

WMU is never forced nor impossible to understand. They want us to go with them. Sometimes prog or jazz can leave the listener behind or confused; feeling out of step with the musicians. WMU never gets close to loosing us. What they are recreating stays within familiar musical reference points. Their arrangement of Killer Queen wouldn’t be out of place on a Broadway Stage in 1954 or as the perfect introduction to a radio play based on a Dashiell Hammett short story.

WMU’s version of The Rain Song is the most beautiful and intimate arrangement of a Led Zeppelin song you could ever imagine. Vocalist McAdams’ take on the lyrics makes time stand still. As it begins you can see your reflection in the puddles on the street as you walk down fifth avenue nursing a heartbreak while looking out of the corner of your eye for a quiet bar. A little more than five minutes in the arrangement shifts gears with the new season and moves a touch faster. After a minute McAdams declares “these are the seasons of emotion and like the wind they will rise and fall” and the music mirrors her emotion by slowing down in tune with the reflective nature of Plant’s lyrics.

Amazingly WMU takes King Crimson’s Elephant Talk and mimics the feeling of a clumsy elephant moving across the stage. Their arrangement brings to mind the music created by Carl Stalling for Warner Brothers animation or what Scott Bradley did for Tex Avery and Tom and Jerry cartoons. A dozen different instruments pop in and out as a horn line  bursts though with the kinetic nature of the song itself. By slowing the original beat of the song down just a bit, WMU allows the listener to walk with them where Crimson’s original demanded that you fly as fast as the band was moving.

When most bands decide to use a bullhorn effect on their vocals they sound like imitations of Tom Waits or drunk frat boys. When WMU introduces the sound on Elephant Talk it turns Adrian Belew’s hyper-drive free-associative alliteration into a 1967 FM Disc Jockey trying to play with listener’s heads on a late night San Francisco radio station at 3:30 AM.

The core three of McAdams, Fraley and Johnson are joined by over 25 other musicians but they never let technique or fancy-pants showing off interfere with the greatest strength of the release, good songs expanded by great musicians. This is a wonderful CD that will remind listeners what excited them about prog and jazz in the first place as well as challenge other listeners with the reconstruction of the familiar.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 



 
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

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