Italian prog bands aren’t typically known for being trailblazers. The most influential Italian artists took their cue primarily from British bands, especially King Crimson, Yes and Gentle Giant. NyX’s sophomore album The News is no different. It’s complex, doesn’t rely solely on traditional rock instrumentation and has a unifying conceptual theme. The album seems to be about the repetitiveness, banality, and danger of our post 9-11 world. Song titles and effects evoke the sounds of a city, metro stations and a news room. Song structures are complex, dynamic, and sometimes chaotic. It also sounds an awful lot like King Crimson. This is, no doubt, due to the fact that Adrian Belew and Trey Gunn are contributors. Interestingly, however, on this album you’ll also hear electronica, jazz piano, new age soundscapes, progressive metal, and even disco(!). The band has clearly made an effort to be innovative. Most of the time, it works. Transitions are seamless, the musicianship is effortlessly virtuosic and the band adds enough inventive flourishes to keep things interesting. There are also some seriously bonkers passages of wild musical experimentation.
The first couple of songs encapsulate the feel of the entire album. ‘Restless Slumber (At The Break of Dawn)’ is an instrumental that begins with the sounds of a city coming to life. Cars honk and a crowd murmurs as a piano improvises in a jazz style around synths and a bass line that grows increasingly insistent and funky. The addition of drums and electric guitar rounds out the instrumentation and the band rocks in a classic prog mode until the first of the album’s synth-driven soundscapes emerges: as a disembodied female voice makes cryptic announcements, a warm ambience evolves into what can only be described as the same seagull-like sounds found on Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’. An alarm clock goes off and at the final beep segues into the next song.
‘Groundhog Day (Wakening, Dressing, Starting Up…)’ is a highlight. It explodes out of the gate with thick, fuzzed out bass, guitar, drums and distorted cello. This alternates with precise, staccato riffing, as guitar, bass and drum play in sync. Throughout, the vocalist yelps, barks, shouts or sings lyrics that are hard to decipher without a lyric sheet. The vocal stylings wouldn’t be out of place on a krautrock or post-punk album. On a dime, the song’s middle section transforms into something sounding like a mashup of Yes and Disco Volante-era Mr. Bungle. For the latter, imagine progressive metal performed by circus clowns who like avant garde jazz. Hearing such sounds on this album was a surprise. The song ends with a lush soundscape and the return of the sounds of a city.
Other songs are in a similar, if less experimental, vein. Adrian Belew performs on ‘A Sarcastic Portrait (Editorial, Home and Foreign…)’. This song is another highlight. Belew impressively adds texture through his inimitable style. The song is (unsurprisingly) very Crimsonesque. The middle section shifts gears, with Belew trading notes antiphonally with the other guitarist. This segues into a lush acoustic guitar-driven soundscape with synths and the sound of chiming bells.
‘The Paper (Titles & Subtitles)’ is an effects-laden instrumental with a darker tone. Piano intertwines with a menacing bass line to anchor the song rhythmically while guitars make odd sounds in support of what sounds like a street protest. The song shifts temporarily into a more introspective, synth-driven mood, one part strangely and creepily sounding like something inspired by San Francisco’s obscure and anonymous avante garde collective, The Residents. The song ends on a somber note with bass, electric drums, sound effects, and synths.
‘The Daily Dark Delirium’ is the final song and contains Trey Gunn’s contribution to the album. The song is the album’s third standout track and kicks off with a seriously funky techno/disco beat, which alternates with music that brings King Crimson’s Projekt Two lineup to mind. It’s has a similar feel to ‘Groundhog Day’ and the song is aptly named. Throughout, Trey lays down some sweet riffs and solos on his Warr guitar.
The remaining songs are good, but not as interesting. ‘Discord (Domestic Policies)’ employs a standard verse-chorus-verse structure, guitar, bass, synths and drums. Gently-strummed acoustic guitar alternates with harmonic electric guitar soloing while the synths hum and burble. It’s quite conventional and actually seems a bit out of place, given the preceding musical oddities. ‘Oscillations Du Chaos – Part III’ is a brief, instrumental placeholder that employs synths, electric drums, piano, bass, distorted guitar tones, and a typewriter.
Overall, this is a good album. The contributions of Adrian Belew and Trey Gunn alone make this album worth a listen. Just be warned – this is not your dad’s prog. While wearing their influences on their sleeves, the band innovates by alternating traditional with the experimental, often within the same song, occasionally to jarring effect. Anyone who likes King Crimson, or who enjoys prog and doesn’t mind having their buttons and envelopes pushed, will find much to admire and enjoy.