Born out of the Prairies of Western Canada comes – a Psychedelic, post-modern, Canterbury-styled, rockin’ out band called Mahogany Frog? – you betcha’!! This band caught me by surprise and hasn’t let me go since I first started to play this tremendous CD. If you like the style of Soft Machine and Caravan, a sprinkling of Hot Rats and heavy Rock, catchy melodies, and blended with Tangerine Dream-style electronics, then you are in for a treat here. (Plus, you are an adventurous musical type to boot). I realize that this description may be hard to get your head around, but bear with me.
Beginning in Saskatoon and now based in Winnipeg, Mahogany Frog is a quartet featuring Graham Epp (guitar, keyboards, trumpet), Jesse Warkentin (guitar, keyboards), Scott Ellenberger (bass, keyboards, trumpet) and Andy Rudolph (drums and electronics). This is all instrumental music with occasional voice samples and is melodic for the most part. I made a reference above to Frank Zappa and I think that is justified in the way that MF play all over the place and challenge you, but still maintain melody and structure so that it doesn’t come across as Avant-garde or RIO (Rock in Opposition) – or at least not for long. The multi-instrumentalists in this band really cook throughout and it is a treat to hear musicians not afraid to push a few boundaries, a rare thing in music these days.
There are eight tracks on the album. They use all analogue equipment so there is a real organic feel to the production, which is super well recorded. So on to the songs:
The album opens with “Houndstooth Part 1”, a four-minute “intro” of sorts with a powerful electronic sample of continuous upbeat pulsing overlaid with sweeping organ textures that build to a feedback crescendo. This leads into Part 2, which builds on the beat with pounding drums, feedback guitars, and is really heavy. This then changes course and you get into a syncopated “popcorn” sort of sound with the keyboards and guitars interplaying in a catchy melody. This returns to the heavy attack again with a driving beat, Hammond organ – almost a Deep Purple-like instrumental.
Track three, “Expo 67”, starts with more soaring electronica, a pulsing that introduces another heavy song with very Zappa-ish fluctuations and permutations; a real freak-out that will have you relishing the fuzzy guitar and feedback.
“Flossing with Buddha” is a nod to one of my favourite Van Der Graaf Generator tracks, “Theme One”, with an uplifting keyboard melody and driving drums behind it. This is majestic, goose bump inducing stuff.
“Message from Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt” begins with a somber and dense blending of keyboards, guitars and cymbals, ebbing and flowing. Guitars begin to break through in a way that brings to mind Quicksilver Messenger Service’s first LP – very John Cipollina. This is a modern take of 60s Psychedelica and a pleasure hearing such beautiful lines weave in and out. This eight-minute opus gets heavier with real rockin’ power chords and feedback soloing – not to be missed. This leads right into “Message from Uncle Stan: Green House”, that for three minutes goes into Soft Machine (Third) territory, with bass, tremolo keyboards and guitars slowing down for some heavy interplay. They come back once again with the driving force of Part One before it ends.
“Saffron Myst” incorporates a very Latin-inspired rhythm with keyboards playfully soloing over the top. A bit of respite from the sonics of the previous tracks but it also fits because of the tone of the instruments.
The final chords of “Myst” then lead into the nearly eight-minute “Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service”. And what a way to end the album. This is really heavy Rock – pounding and intricate drum work, electronics, keyboards and guitars interplaying in a dense mash of Hendrix-styled intensity. The final two minutes of the track (and album) features an electronic wash of sound with the final half minute a simple Bach-like harpsichord – unexpected but somehow it makes perfect sense!
I hope I’ve given you a decent idea of what Mahogany Frog’s music is all about. It is a ride and a half and gets your juices flowing. There are a number of bands out there playing in all types of meters and keys, but not many can keep the melodic side of Rock in their sites. Mahogany Frog does it very well indeed.
Senna is their sixth album. I’ve listened to the previous three (albums one and two are long out of print) and can tell you that if Senna grabs you, you will want to dive in to the other LPs as well.
The first link provided is to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s library that has an excellent bio and music samples. The band’s website also contains lots of music and ordering information. Give these guys a try – I think if you are looking for a change of pace, MF will deliver!
Release Date: September 18, 2012