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We live in a troubled age, and how we treat music (and musicians) reflects that. I won't say musicians are always treated badly, but they are often chronically overlooked. Unless they're created by corporations, for corporations, they'll probably struggle to gain exposure for their craft. Great bands go largely unnoticed, then largely fade away.
Maybe that's not the case with Souvenir's Young America, but it seems to be. At the same time, it may be because they are enigmatic, hard to categorize. Some describe them as "metal," "progressive metal" or "post-rock," but none of those labels seem to fit. I might call them an "atmospheric instrumental rock band," but that sounds a bit clunky. One reason I hesitate to call them "metal" or "progressive": They don't seem hellbent on impressing people with flashy playing. The music does have power, and is expressive, but rarely does it truly fit a standard metal style. As another review noted, the music blends elements of Ennio Morricone with Bill Laswell.
Souvenir's Young America: Where do they fit in?
I don't want to say instrumental music is endangered, but it kind of is. For whatever reason, playing instrumental music is basically a no-no these days. In an era full of cookie-cutter, formulaic pop music, where does an atmospheric, cinematic powerhouse—with matching moments of nuanced subtlety—fit in? There aren't many places, that's for sure. The problem is, when someone talks about how underground a band is, they'll often be taken as a hipster. Most people don't want to be summarily dismissed like that. I don't want to listen to something just because it's underground, but because it's good.
Granted, Souvenir's Young America aren't totally unknown. I first heard them on Pandora myself (and thank goodness for that!). Also, I was able to look up some basic facts about the band's album, An Ocean Without Water. There are three main musicians involved: Ken Rayher on guitar, Jonathan Lee on keyboards and "Electronics," and Graham Scala on percussion, guitar and "Electronics." Also appearing on the album: Noah Saval on harmonica and Chris Carroll on cello. Also, the album cover by Sasha Barr shows a freaky eye pyramid encircled by an Ouroboros snake eating its own tail—a fascinating snake symbol, but something that actually happens in nature. It's an instance of album art adding mystique.
Mini-Review: 'An Ocean Without Water'
Rather than reviewing the full album in depth, I'll give some attention to a few of its tracks.
The opening track, "Mars Ascendant," starts off pretty serious, with a semi-snarling guitar tone. It has a nice, solemn feel to it, being both melodic and heavy —yet never so heavy as to lose its atmosphere in a distorted muddle. Frankly, this is still my favorite track on the album, and it's partly due to the harmonica parts. Another track, "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground" is based on the blues tune by Blind Willie Johnson—although, of course, Souvenir's adds their own unique spin on it.
This album is reasonably diverse, yet cohesive. One could enjoy it all in one go, or listen to tracks on separate occasions. I wouldn't say it's a concept album or that it's something totally out there. It's not very experimental, even though you might not predict everywhere a given track will go. Rather, it seems like the band takes a naturalistic approach—not thinking in terms of genre distinction. The result is a fairly enjoyable album, even if not entirely "epic" at every turn. Go ahead and listen to it!