The Canadian band Mahogany Frog has returned in 2012 with Senna, their sixth full length offering and their second for the MoonJune Records label. Continuing with the distinct sound that was laid down on their previous release DO5 (2008), multi-instrumentalists Graham Epp, Jesse Warkentin, bass player Scott Ellenberger and percussionist Andy Rudolph have created an instrumental art rock masterpiece. This band isn't just the sum of its influences; it has created its own instrumental identity in keeping the excitement of the early years of the progressive era. By mixing vintage keyboards with today's cutting edge technology, Mahogany Frog have created their heaviest and most wonderfully orchestrated album to date.
The album opens with Houndstooth, part 1, the organ heavy resembling Pink Floyd's Meddle. Influences aside, this opening track sets a tone, an attitude of what's to come as it segues into Houndstooth, part 2. Industrial wah-wah riffs move into some very catchy melody lines and finish nicely with the entire band contributing to the aural insanity. There exists an odd comfort level as the song draws to its conclusion; one that recalls the experimental sound of Syd Barrett and The Doors of the late sixties. Expo'67 opens with gritty synth droning before breaking into a wicked guitar fueled jam, complete with controlled feedback and a marvellous organ undertone. Tweeting birds, Farfisa organ and ARP synthesizer welcome you in Flossing With Buddha. This majestic piece with spacey guitar effects would be at home on any album of The Flower Kings, while maintaining the Mahogany Frog sound.
Side 2' of Senna begins with the album's epic, both in title and in duration: Message From Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt. Once again, droning, psychedelic soundscapes intertwined with sitar-like electric guitars evoke a bit of the old West. The sound is big, a testament to the solid production values and a live-in-the-studio feel. This vibe continues with a trippy fuzz-bass opening for Message From Uncle Stan: Green House. Filled with a vintage sixties sound, it's not difficult to sense the ghosts of Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek of The Doors filling the speakers. The Kraftwerk inspired opening to Saffron Myst gives way to a nod to Synergy (Larry Fast) while maintaining the scope of what makes Mahogany Frog comfortable in the psychedelic and progressive world. Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service, the final piece of musical magic, is seamlessly bled from the previous track. This is where Mahogany Frog delivers an all-encompassing sonic heart attack: soaring guitars, spacey Hawkwind-like keyboards and distortion aplenty. Songs like this is why headphones were invented but make no mistake, don't expect to fall asleep as a result. The track ends with a quirky bit of harpsichord provided by Eric Lussier, signaling the end of the trip.
As I have stated in the past, I have never been comfortable with providing a personal opinion when it comes to reviewing an artist's work. What's important is that I offer an accurate description of the music and allow that information to persuade the listener into enjoying the voyage or not. Senna is a wonderful journey into the world of psychedelic progressive music. Often times, it's the delivery being as important as the content, and in Senna, Mahogany Frog has managed both with style. The music displays no obvious need for technical wizardry, but it's in that fact that Mahogany Frog can take pride. There exists lots of big, electronic sound backed with a solid rhythm section and fine playing all around. It's in composition and sound structure that the band excels a perfect balance for this variation on psychedelic prog. If any of the aforementioned bands or perhaps newer groups such as Explosions In The Sky make you happy, then Senna will be a cherished addition to your collection.
***** Ray Loboda (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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