For nearly 35 years now, Louisville, Kentucky based Mike Sary has been assembling bands under the name French TV, and to date has released twelve albums under the banner. This, the latest, features a multi-national cast.
Opening track Ghost Zone serves to lull the listener into a false sense of security, its benign sound washes giving little indication of the labyrinthine complexity that lurks under the deceptive calm surface of this introduction to Operation: Mockingbird, named after the infamous CIA mind control program. The following Noble Obelisk (I see what you did there) jumps right off the cliff into a fantastic sea of gaily coloured unusual musical lifeforms, inhabiting a Zappa-esque esoteric Cantabrian netherworld where everything isn’t so much not what it seems as it is a densely packed universe that you won’t have a hope of grasping first time around.
Further in and once acclimatised you will find yourself twitching in sympatico with the band’s brain frying rhythms as the album wends its merry way down, down into the murky depths of the psyche. Sonorous bass guides electric piano and synths along the ocean floor towards the end of Urgent Fury, serving to give respite to previously and seemingly scattergun, but no doubt tightly scripted instrumentation.
Sometimes it seems that the impossible twists and turns are at the behest of a caffeine-fuelled puppet master with attention deficit disorder and far, far too much going on in his head. Don’t worry Mike, I actually quite like it, precisely for that reason!
The highlights of the album for me are the ten minutes-plus of Nimrod Dancer and Vigilant Sentinel both of which manage to tone down the flighty intellectualism a tad, with guitarist Katsumi Yoneda, retained from the previous album Ambassadors Of Good Health And Clean Living, throwing some good shapes on top of arrangements that conjure up visions in my fried synapses of Patrick Moraz’s Yes at their most wonderfully angular jamming with National Health. The album is worth your time for these two tracks alone.
Sandwiched between those two tracks we are back in the barrel of chimps, or rather pheasants, and Ludovic Fabre’s violin adds another dimension to this already multi-faceted schizoid bunch. Yep, it is good, but probably not music you could meditate to.
At last some relief as we exit to the calming sounds of Silent Years, regaining control of our frazzled minds in the process, the album being bookended by otherwise isolated moments of quiet reflection. Operation: Mockingbird may well be prog, in that it is referential, often way too complicated for its own good, and occasionally hard work, but if like me you like to take a trip down that peculiar road now and again there aren’t many better guides than Mike Sary’s wilful troupe.
01. Ghost Zone (2:29)
02. Noble Obelisk (5:37)
03. Urgent Fury (8:32)
04. Tree Incident (7:40)
05. Nimrod Dancer (10:41)
06. Golden Pheasant Of The Infinite Reach (8:33)
07. Vigilant Sentinel (10:40)
08. Silent Years (3:48)
Total Time – 58:00
Mike Sary – Bass. Loops, Samples
Katsumi Yoneda – Guitars
Mark L. Perry – Drums, Percussion
Patrick Strawser – Keyboards
Ludovic Fabre – Violin
Karl Ledus – Sax, Flute
Nico Fabre – Additional Keyboards (on Tree Incident)
Record Label: Pretentious Dinosaur Productions
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 13th September 2017