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Pseudo/Sentai - Bansheeface CD (album) cover

BANSHEEFACE

Pseudo/Sentai

 

Crossover Prog

4.02 | 17 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Bansheeface' - Pseudo/Sentai (79/100)

I think there is something to be said for the kind of 'everything but the kitchen sink' progressive rock that seems to have fallen out of favour over the few years, provided it's in the hands of musicians who know how to wield it. Moreover, I'm most often impressed when a band dares to imbue pop sensibilities with a nigh-overwhelming complexity or attention to detail. Of the bands who come to mind at moment's notice, Queen is probably the best example who, in spite of having brilliant hooks worthy of being hummed along to enthusiastically by any soccer mom in between morning Zolofts and driving the kids to practice, earned some degree of infamy for the meticulous design of their arrangements and general snail's pace with which they produced their work. Given that Bansheeface has been a work-in-progress for the past five years, it's safe to say that Pseudo/Sentai deserve a share of some of this notoriety. And yes, while the music is undeniably experimental (occasionally taunting avant-prog territory), their music's always carried a strong melodic sensibility, no matter how chaotic it first appears. Bansheeface is, without a doubt, the most ambitious, layered and eclectic release yet from the young provocateurs, but so too has their strong pop essence benefited from the time and effort Pseudo/Sentai have invested in their craft this time around.

To a surprising degree Bansheeface still bears the proudly experimental imperfections that went a ways to defining Pseudo as early as the first demos, but whereon past work there was a clear gap between where they were and where they wanted to be, it feels as if Bansheeface is the first time the band's vision has been realized in a significant way. This is not to say that Pseudo/Sentai's EPs or debut It's Always A Fucking Problem weren't engaging, but the jarring aspects of their music often felt less like the vital side-effects of experimentation, and more along the lines of structural faults that the band had yet to rectify. Glorious, self-aware imperfection is what defined so much of P/S's music up to this point, and I do mean that in a good way. If my memory serves, Jon Poole of Cardiacs (whom Pseudo/Sentai's guitarist Greg Murphy admires as much as I do!) was quoted as saying something along the lines that perfection was repellent to him. Imperfection, by contrast (especially in experimental music) is often surprising and stimulating. There were technical issues I had with the earlier stuff, true, but Pseudo/Sentai's plain-weird fusion of modern prog with everything under the sun kept me on my toes.

That same gloriously imperfect experimentation is here on Bansheeface, but this time it's been coated with a level of polish and intention I'd never have thought to hear from them. If you need a basic idea of what Pseudo/Sentai sound like, think of what Coheed & Cambria (circa The Second Stage Turbine) might sound like if Claudio Sanchez had spent a year listening to Gentle Giant and wanted to make progressive rock of a similarly complex and eclectic nature. It wouldn't be out of line to associate P/S among the likes of so-called 'alt-proggers' like The Mars Volta and The Dear Hunter (and Coheed, of course) but that would only be scratching the surface of their style. The sheer eclecticism Pseudo/Sentai exhibit is naturally hard to pin down; they're not beyond echoes of 8- bit chiptune, flashes of metal and even noise (as heard in the would-be interlude "Trap of Assassination"). I think the thing that defines Bansheeface the most is the grappling sense of urgency and busyness; it takes little time to get started, and once it's gained momentum, it doesn't let up. Frantic guitar lines and multi- layered production (engineered by Colin Marston of Behold the Arctopus fame, no less!) give the impression of a whirlwind for the first handful of listens, though it's not long before that pleasant sense of familiarity sets in, thanks in large part to the album's lively hooks.

While it's a far cry from the quasi-grindcore microtracks that comprised There's Always A Fucking Problem, Pseudo/Sentai still relies on shorter tracks to express their point. I'm aware that these should be seen less as songs than as chunks of a seamless album-length composition, but the fact remain that Pseudo/Sentai take little time to make their point. The density of the band's music is one of their strongest selling points, though I found myself wondering while first listening to the album whether Bansheeface may have benefited from exploring a few of its better ideas at a more relaxed pace. Unsurprisingly, the most standoutish tracks are the more fully developed songs; "Black Matter of Machinations" is a fantastic example of what P/S can do when they lean on the conventional art of songwriting. Taking a driven route to atmosphere, Scott Baker's vocals (sounding close to some of the earlier mentioned alt- prog references) are finally given a chance to breathe amid the stifling arrangements- close comparisons could be drawn to their fellow East Coast proggers in The Tea Club.

The impression of fully fleshed songwriting tends to be an exception on Bansheeface, although this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Like many excellent experimental acts, Pseudo/Sentai have thought it best to hinge their music on great ideas and moments over necessarily great structures. The album's Cardiacs-ish intro "Quantum Cardboard" is not only the best example of this but possibly my favourite bit on Bansheeface overall- the moment the drums light up over the quirky electronics is one of the most satisfying musical moments I've come across in recent months. Alas, other parts give me a strong opposite reaction. The pseudo-rapping at the beginning of "Immaculation" is close to fucking unbearable (think Weird Al doing a Nintendo-themed Hip Hop album). It's thankfully an unmatched low point on the album- Bansheeface otherwise remains a respectable consistency with the success of its experiments. Even when I'm not altogether loving an idea of theirs (the noise-prone "Traps of Assassination" really feels out of place in the album's flow, for instance) Pseudo/Sentai have put enough meat on the bones of this album to keep me interested throughout.

For a band that's trying to do so many different things with an hour of music, I'm not surprised that there are parts of Bansheeface I don't care for. What matters to me is that I get the impression that the zany experiments Pseudo/Sentai have mustered were done so with passion and vision. Bansheeface achieves the fulfillment of vision I struggled to find on Pseudo/Sentai's past output. In doing so, I think it's safe to say the album marks a new stage in evolution and maturity for the band.

By the way, did I mention it's a concept album? Some wacky shit about alien political intrigue, man-eating Selkies and the eponymous Bansheeface, whom I might have been able to write a bit about had I understood a splinter of what the fucking story's about. Ripe material for a graphic novel to go along with the special collector's edition, I suppose?

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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