Saturday 12 November 2022


Complicated, complex and indulgent are all criticisms that have been levelled at music of a progressive nature, or as we have come to call it prog, and in many respects those criticisms have been justified. In fact, it was because of these reasons, and a few others, that prog crashed and burned in the late 70's and allowed punk rock to get its foot in the door, kids were bored rigid with mind-scrambling concepts, twenty-minute organ/synthesiser solos and lyrics you needed a PhD to understand. However, prog is a resilient beast and never fully went away and has, over the last few decades or so, been slowly clawing its way out of the shadows and back into our lives.

YURT are Andrew Bushe (drums); Steven Anderson (guitars/vocals/electronics) and Boz Mugabe (bass/vocals/electronics), otherwise known as the "Sonic Elders of YURT", the music they make IS complicated and complex and IS on occasions indulgent, but weirdly that is also its beauty. YURT are not prog in any traditional musical sense of the word, yes, they do draw their influences from some of the same wells that the likes of Yes, Dream Theater and Opeth drew inspiration from, but they also do not ignore the rock'n'roll basics either, they are a band who are just as likely to jam on riff as they are to experiment with a convoluted chord progression, as their fifth album "V-Upgrade to Obselete" will attest to.

 Opening number "Paralyse" begins in classic YURT style with shimmering drones, electronic beeps and whirls and robotic voicings (played at a variety of speeds) then slams into a strident and angular groove, decorated in effect laden guitar textures, driven by low heavy bass and a whirlwind of percussion. The song shapeshifts through a myriad of changes in tempo, volume and dynamics over its twelve minutes plus duration but probably it will be the section where the vocals first come in that will stick in many listeners minds the most, a section that gives a hint that some members in the band may have possibly been listening to their fair share of early Hawkwind of late. Title track "Upgrade to Obsolete" looms into earshot next, a superbly busy tome, packed solid with unexpected flourishes, textures and colours, that is anchored strongly to the ground by a surprisingly funky bass line, and if you thought that was busy wait till "The Book of Esophagus" hits your aural canals, its fusion of swirling space rock and free-form jazz may on the face of it seem to be going in a hundred different directions at once, with bursts of saxophone, guitar and electronic noise constantly battling for supremacy but is, underneath it all, rhythmically quite straightforward and tight. "Breakfast in Aksum" then follows, a song that is probably the closest YURT come to laying down something resembling traditional prog on this album, Anderson channelling a little Steve Howe (YES) complexity into his guitar playing while Mugabe and Bushe concentrate on supplying the songs jagged and turbulent groove, of course this being YURT they could not possibly allow a song to end much the same way it started and so they close the song out in maelstrom of swirling, fizzing  dissonant noise. "The Brand Evangelist" sees those monotonic Hawkwind-esque lead vocals and harmonies rear their head once again, but this time backed by a musical backdrop that has a surprising dank and doomic quality. "Mukbang" finally brings things to a close and is a song that throws everything into the pot at once, old and new school prog, space rock, heavy psych, a little doom, you can also hear shades of Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles as well as YES, Floyd and Dream Theater and even  touches of Kraftwerk and CAN, all these different elements and influences spinning and weaving around each other to create a melting pot of sound that you won't want to end but ultimately has to.

Exceptional from start to finish "V-Upgrade to Obsolete" is progressive rock how we always hoped it would sound, complex, intricate and dynamic but at the same time not so far up its lowest orifice that you end up turning it off and moving on to something less taxing and confusing. Dubbing YURT's latest album as mind-blowing seems like a bit of a cliche but that is exactly what it is. YURT make music that is uncompromising, angular and experimental but is at the same time accessible and does not require any overthinking on the part of the listener, of course the band want to impress you with their musicianship and arrangement skills but at the same time they do not want you to feel like you have to understand music theory to enjoy what they do. There is a flow to YURT's music, albeit one that twists and turns with alarming regularity, that despite its numerous intricacies and complexities is easy on the ear and doesn't feel like you are wading through a mire of egotistical showmanship, each participant playing for the song instead of despite of it. 
Check it out ....

  © 2022 Frazer Jones

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