Whenever I hear someone throw around the term “instrumental prog,” my mind instantly conjures images of bearded men bludgeoning multi-stringed monstrosities with metronomic precision. Either that or I expect streams of lithe arpeggios and endless guitar histrionics (sometimes these elements are even combined into one song!). This saturation of like sounds in modern prog makes it easy to forget that there are artists out there who have chosen solely instrumental music as their muse and who do truly strange and innovative things within their subscribed genre. To that end Tilted Axes’ Music for Mobile Electric Guitars is one hell of a strange journey, and an invigorating breath of fresh air for experimental instrumental music.
First of all, I have to mention that Tilted Axes is a brainchild of composer and guitarist Patrick Grant, who gathered a team of other guitarists, percussionists, bassists and a Chapman Stick player to produce this varied record.
Nestled somewhere amongst the maelstrom of jazz fusion, classical/orchestral, alternative, and progressive rock lies the core of the sound of the album. No two tracks sound alike, and this refusal to bow to any particular genre convention makes for an intriguing and multifaceted listen. Rich orchestral strains surround the listener like a cosmic blanket, and the overall vibe is spacey and contemplative. The soundscapes at play, ambient at times and at others wholly supportive of the melody, grab the listener and refuse to let go. A tasteful and emotive guitar screams for attention above the din.
That is a victory of this record then, that it can at once be many things while also retaining a unique identity all its own. The songs demand the listener’s full attention, and a casual “one headphone on” experience this is not. There aren’t many egregious displays of technique on hand here (although make no mistake, this music is expertly played) only a masterfully constructed ode to dynamics and atmosphere. Every solo feels necessary and earned, every bend and run emotive, which is refreshing to see in a genre where that sense of restraint isn’t always apparent or heeded.
The record ultimately won’t be for everyone, as this group of 15 men takes their time developing these songs and atmospheres (although track lengths are kept surprisingly brief). The music rarely feels as though it meanders too long before finding its theme and stride, the soundscapes and melodies kept each other in check and supported each other well. For all of the genre and stylistic hopping going on, the overall package is very concise and the mix of disparate elements really works. This is good, because with so much hinging on experimentation this overall cohesion is key. Finally, I would highly recommend listening to the record in sequence, as I feel it is a more complete experience from beginning to end when digested in this way.