Sunday, February 17, 2013

Soup by Stick Men

Soup is the 2010 debut album of the trio Stick Men consisting of Tony Levin (Chapman stick), Pat Mastelotto (drums), and Michael Bernier (Chapman stick). It's obvious from whence the group's name arose: two guys playing Chapman sticks and one guy swinging two drum sticks. It's less clear where the album's title came from other than the cover art of the guys eating soup.

Stick Men's 2012 album Deep (see my review) was very enjoyable and led to my purchase of Soup. Had it been the other way around I'm not certain I would've rushed so quickly to get Deep.

Don't get me wrong. Soup is a strong album but it starts out weak. The eponymous track Soup is kind of silly - I don't have any better way of putting it. The spoken word lyrics are just odd. Maybe this track would've been better left for the end of side 1 (for those of you who remember vinyl) but not the opener.

Hands (Parts 1-3) gets back to the serious jamming. Part 1 has a strong King Crimson feel from the Discipline/Beat period. What amazes me is the range of sounds Levin and Bernier are able to achieve with the Chapman stick - you forget it's just two guys playing. After all this rapid-fire playing of Hands, the album segues into Inside the Red Pyramid and flowing, pulsing, melodic richness.

Speed returns with Fugue where the two Chapman sticks race headlong and finally Mastelotto's drumming achieves parity with the other players. That's followed by Sasquatch, an almost Fripp-like rhythmic piece that might be my favorite on the entire album. Again, Mastelotto's drumming is an integral part of the overall piece, more so than the previous tracks. Scarlett Wheel brings back more traditional melody and vocals (and to continue making analogies to other musicians) with a Peter Gabriel feel.

Every prog rocker's favorite classical piece (or so it seems), The Firebird Suite, is featured on tracks 9-12. The album then closes with Relentless, an up-tempo rocker that seems to have it all - rumbling bass lines, screeching melodic lines, pensive interludes, and everything in between.

Fans of Stick Men or any of its members will want to add Soup to their collection. For the newbie seeking an introduction, I'd jump right into Deep first.

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

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