Album Review: Nick Prol & the Proletarians, ‘An Erstwisle Alphabestiary: Book One’

Nick Prol & The Proletarians released their debut album, Loon Attic, a few years ago, to much acclaim in the experimental music world. The debut boasted a massive roster of guest players, ranging from Pinback’s Rob Crow to Thymme Jones from legendary art rock group Cheer-Accident. Last year, Nick announced a follow up album, titled An Erstwisle Bestiary: Book One. However, the follow up would trade the guest spots for a core band consisting of Nick Prol on guitars and vocals, Ben Spees on bass, synth, and backing vocals, and Connor Reilly on drums. That doesn’t mean it’s guest-free, though: Thymme Jones, Kavus Torabi, and Bob Drake provide narration throughout, and there are several contributing musicians that add tracks here and there (including the prolific and highly talented Dave Newhouse, The Mercury Tree’s Oliver Campbell, and more). But apart from a few guest parts, most of the music was brought to life by the core band of Nick, Ben, and Connor (who I spoke with on this podcast). After our conversation, I was really curious to hear how different this album would be, with less people involved, a more focused approach, and highly unique subject matter

The album takes place in the imaginary world of Erstwisle, which just so happens to be the place that we’re all headed for when we die. As soon as we pass through the “birth gourd”, which is basically a blob with sphincter-like orifaces by which we are reborn and expelled, we land in surrealist landscape, covered in alien flora and fauna, and we set out to live our new life as a strange monster-like creature in Erstwisle. This album functions as a sonic guide to Erstwisle, and the accompanying guide that comes with the physical copy of the album even includes pictures of some of the different creatures that one might encounter while there. The pictures are delightfully strange, and I’m always happy to see artists invest in physical products like this. I know many music fans long for the tactile side of music listening- the feeling of putting on an album and following along with the liner notes on the album sleeve, etc. I hope that if you’re able, you can do the same with this album. I feel like it enhanced my experience, and made the “tour” feel much more complete.

I knew the album would be quirky, as Nick’s previous work gained a reputation for being off the wall and fun in that regard. When I listen to music of the avant-garde persuasion, sometimes I am more caught up by the ‘oh-man-this-is-weird’-ness, and so my takeaways are usually something similar. But I don’t really feel like this album is weirdness for weirdness’ sake. In between odd moments that make you smile, there are stunning moments of Mogwai-esque atmosphere and beauty. And yes, the majority of this album feels lighthearted, as the subject matter lends itself to that, to a degree. But careful listeners will see that this ‘alphabestiary’ is as much a surrealist, existential exploration of the afterlife as it is a Monster Manual.

As someone who loves worldbuilding, this album is wonderful. Nick does a fantastic job creating a compelling, fun, and interesting world and then pulling you in. Standout tracks for me are the very lively track “Emitones”, the short but catchy “Kigangs”, and the brilliantly melodic and off-kilter “Loshnongs”. “Loshnongs” has the coolest, weirdest ending, as a series of rhythmic loops intertwine to create controlled chaos between all the instruments. It’s maybe the most representative track on the album for me, although it functions as a transitional track to the next album, because Nick is able to both cryptically explain the nature of these strange beasts, and create a beautiful, captivating melody behind it.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most creative albums I’ve ever reviewed on Proglodytes. And as someone who is always searching for music that is unique and boundary pushing, I found this album to be an absolute delight. I can’t help but smile as I listen. Every album, to some degree, is a look into the artist’s brain, but this album is a long form exploration of a completely unique world, rendered carefully and with great attention to detail. The fact that the album comes with an illustrated guide alone is testament to the comprehensiveness of the world that Nick provides on our tour of Erstwisle. In short, I loved it, and I very much look forward to returning to Erstwisle with Nick Prol and the Proletarians on subsequent releases.

Oh, and I’d be doing you all a huge disservice if I didn’t post this ridiculous video of “Filnosses”.

Nick Prol and the Proletarians’ latest album, An Erstwhile Alphabestiary: Book One was released independently in December of 2020. Check it out here, and buy the physical copy if you can! It comes with a hand drawn, 16 page art booklet. I promise it’s worth it.

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