Aficionado - Circus Music
Record Label: None
Release Date: May 12, 2008
Aficionado are certainly one of the most unique bands on the indie scene, featuring as they do a flautist, two trumpeters and a lighting/visual director. In total, the band has ten members; yes, you read that correctly, ten members. Aficionado are, if such a phrase exists, a dectet. This stage-filling outfit’s style can best be described as an aural assault, as thick walls of noise pour through the speakers, forming colorful and arcane tapestries of sound. Stylistically, they follow a pattern somewhat reminiscent of Circa Survive and The Dear Hunter or 1970’s arena rock giants Kansas, in that they incorporate progressive tendencies and elements into indie rock/psych-pop songs. Their style also incorporated unusual time signatures and frequent dynamic shifts, some more subtle and effective than others. If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, their debut full-length album, Circus Music, masquerades as a loose concept album inspired by the traditional circus.
In many ways, Aficionado’s schizophrenic and remarkably unusual style is enjoyable. The musicianship is pretty strong; the inclusion of a flautist really adds an interesting dimension to the music, and works well with the mathematic guitar work and precise drumming. The vocals can be grating at times, but it’s far from unbearable. Also, the music is very diverse with intense blazing cuts like “Breathing Fire” and “More Like a Machine” blending almost seamlessly with more up-tempo toe-tapping numbers, such as the very pleasant “Said the Elephant” and the vibrant and poppy “Preservation.” However they also do an effective job of blending noise and melody together in the same song, as demonstrated in the hooky and enjoyable “Magnified,” “Deaf Ears,” which is possibly the best song on the record, and “Last Words,” a track which begins and ends all guns blazing, but features a calm and more ambient breakdown. All in all, Aficionado’s blend of classic prog with modern psych-pop and a dose of At the Drive-In blood boil is undoubtedly bold and at times captivating.
However, Circus Music's biggest problem is that the sheer head-crushing depth of the music and the chaotic and swift speed the tracks progress at makes the album a rather exhausting and incomprehensible experience. At first Circus Music appears as an impenetrable whirlwind of noise and chaos, and although with time some of the record’s standout tracks and moments begin to appear from the haze, the whole experience remains noticeably opaque, or at best translucent. Also, the record’s 53-and-a-half minute duration over fourteen tracks doesn’t help remove the sense of exhaustion, and the latter half of the record in particular feels tiresome. This is music that is infinitely boisterous, creative and interesting, but as there is very little to differentiate one song from another, when collected into one album, the tracks effectively run together to form a 53-minute song in several different movements, the track listing providing a loose outline of the insanity contained within.
The music moves at such breakneck pace and switches gears so frequently, it’s hard not to feel dazed and confused by the whole experience. While fellow prog rockers The Mars Volta at least allow their listeners the chance to relax in between the more thrilling moments of their musical odysseys (compare the pace and visceral energy of “L’Via L’Viaquez" with the quiet tension and brooding magnificence of “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore”), Circus Music gives their listeners very little respite. The overall effect is that the impact of standout cuts like “Magnified,” “Said the Elephant,” “Deaf Ears” and “Last Words” is very much diluted by the less inspired tracks like “Search for Shelter,” “Preservation” and most noticeably, “All the Wrong Places,” probably the worst song on the record.
A good way to describe Circus Music would be a musical roller coaster; it’s a thrilling ride from start to finish, with many twists and turns, rises and dips, but by the time you pull back into the station, you are left slightly bemused by the whole experience, and frankly feel glad that it’s over. It’s hard to be too critical of Aficionado, because they are good musicians and deserve credit for their imagination and the scope of their ambition, but what Circus Music needed most was some restraint and some focus. If they had pruned away some of the filler and tighten the seams, perhaps their true talents would have been fully exposed for all to see. Circus Music doesn’t really feel like a proper album; it feels like a playlist album, with bits and pieces glued together somewhat incoherently. It's good to have influences and draw on them in your music, but there is a limit. Circus Music is by no means a bad record, but it’s a frustrating record, partly because it could have been so much better; it makes such a good first impression, but ends very exasperatingly. Those who carry the principle that less is more are not invited to Aficionado’s party, but if you like your prog rock fast, deep and complex, then feel free to come in and enjoy the festivities.
haha, i met some of these guys when i was visiting my friend in new york a few weeks ago, and i saw the band play live. the guys are nice, and their show was really really good, very unique, having ten members and all. their tour bus is awesome also.