So when did prog become a dirty word, huh? And when did it get rescued from the annals of musical history verbatim and be afforded contemporary respect and relevance? These are rhetorical questions, sure (though personally, I’d certainly credit Billy Corgan for the latter). But the fact is that music that originally started out pushing the boundaries of timbre, meter and experimental envelopes ended up becoming bloated in its own self-importance somehow and somewhere around the end of the Seventies.
Modern progressive rock however? Why, that’s a different beast altogether. Akin to the way that Christopher Nolan took the rubber-nipples of legacy of the Batman franchise and twisted them into something more sinewy, serious, toned and taut; the face of modern experimental progressive acts is more stony-faced, tight-jawed and fascinatingly forthright. And Ninetails provide a name to pin upon that face.
There is an audacious expressive joy about Ninetails that, even if the overall content of their music was merely adequate, would still render them worthy of intense interest. The fact that their Slept And Did Not Sleep is stacked high with a boggling array of ideas and flowchart-esque avenues of escape and admittance - that over the course of only five tracks shows more invention than the majority of releases in 2012 – marks their second EP out as a definite beacon to stride towards as the new year dawns on the horizon. Because within its relatively short lifespan, Slept And Did Not Sleep teems forth with ideas, without ever becoming snagged in its own fluorescent and entangled lines.
Opener ‘Maybe We’ rises from a flicker of backwards guitars and enmeshed samples and builds towards a gorgeous and ethereal Chinese puzzle of bass, rain-draped vocals and electric flickers of guitar. ‘Body Clock’ bounces around skittering time signatures and wall-bending vocals: never rushing and never seeking a premature climax; waiting patiently for its story to unravel and then - just when you expect the epic climax, delivers a false-flag coda of synthesised bliss. The bouncing guitar lines and resonating drum patterns of ‘Rawdon Fever’ recalls Battles and Foals in a tag-team wrestling showdown, while the tumbling waves of ‘Mama Aniseed’ build upon themselves with every roll of the snare and flick of the plectrum: lead singer Ed Black teases his words around the continual ideas and inspirations. And as another nod to their musical intelligence and adaptability, they manage to make the eight-minute length of ‘Boxed In’ utterly compelling: constantly shifting and adapting tonal patterns into a way that is both hypnotic and intelligent in equal measures.
The primary defining aspect of Slept And Did Not Sleep is – contrary to the majority myth about progressive guitar music – the sheer will of the band to refine their ideas into something coherent and articulate. Ninetails hold in their palms the ability to conjure up moments of audacious wonder but hold in their minds the intelligence and maturity to streamline, select and judiciously prune such wonder into music that sounds thrillingly new and yet comfortingly familiar. Spread over the course of an entire album, it would prove a more guitar-obsessed, gym-honed and (marginally) more bonkers cousin to Errors exquisite Have Some Faith in Magic. Condensed and considered within the space of a few tracks here, it simply seeks to brilliantly whet the appetite for what’s hopefully to come our way in 2013. Labels, terminology and clever references cease to matter when you’re dealing with music of this intelligence, heart and bizarrely refracted beauty.
8David Edwards's Score