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Album Review: Major Parkinson, “Blackbox”

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Major Parkinson is undeniably of the most unique and refreshing acts in modern progressive music. With a style that is beyond description, and a cinematic quality that makes even the most subtle song sound larger than life, Major Parkinson’s bizarre blend of styles is a beautiful and jarring assault on the senses.

Major Parkinson’s latest album Blackbox is the aural equivalent of being drugged and kidnapped by circus freaks, tied to a chair, and forced to watch some sort of nightmarish goth cabaret through hazy eyes.  It sounds like a mixture of Bobby Conn’s faux disco, mixed with the reckless abandon of California-era Mr. Bungle, but with Nick Cave singing lead. Add on delicious synth and orchestration, and dreamy female vocals. As disparate as that description sounds, it somehow works. And it doesn’t just work- it works BEAUTIFULLY.

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The album itself is cohesive, self referential musical statement. There are several motifs that are repeated throughout various songs- for example, the chorus of the bare piano ballad, “Before the Helmets”, reappears as the lush chorus of “Madeline Crumbles”. Blackbox, as far as I can tell, doesn’t seem to be held together by a clearly defined narrative, but the recurrence of musical themes makes me think that it has some sort of melodic concept at least. The lyrics can be surreal and obtuse at times, but the wordplay is extremely clever,and the lyrics are highly literate and  abundant with references to historical figures like Ernest Hemingway, Nietzsche and Plato.

While this band clearly has figured out how to write effectively as a group, I am most impressed with Lars Christian Bjørknes, the keyboardist/programmer. Every one of his keyboard lines adds to the song significantly. His tones are so dark and rich and lush, I just want to live in them. I can’t gush about them as much as I’d like to, because I don’t want to appear overly effusive, but I am enamored with the atmosphere that the synth creates. Two examples: The song “Night Hitcher” features a Gary Numan-esque melody in an odd time signature that is driven by amazing, punchy synth rhythms. And the gorgeous synth pads during the chorus of “Madeline Crumbles” absolutely make the song.

I’m also really impressed by the production and orchestration on this album. This is best exemplified by the song “Baseball”- a bewildering 10 minute long track that is equally bizarre and beautiful. I would say that the epic nature of this track (the longer format, the dramatic changes, the full orchestration and choir) would make this appeal to more adventurous listeners. As it stands, this is one of my absolute favorite tracks on the album, and I’ve probably listened to it hundreds of times at this point. It’s a lot to take in, but that’s precisely what makes it so great.

A lot of good things have been said about Blackbox, so I’ll just add to the accolades that I think that this was one of my favorite releases of 2017, and maybe one of my favorite new releases from the last few years. It’s a perfect mix of disparate elements that, defying all logic, coalesce perfectly into an album that manages to be equally gorgeous and unsettling.

Major Parkinson’s Blackbox was released on October 27, 2017. Buy it here.

 

 

 

 

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