Milwaukee, Wisconsin is home to a plethora of musical artists from a surprising variety of genres. This interesting list includes – but is in no way limited to – The Violent Femmes, Steve (The Joker) Miller, the ubiquitous bass supremo Leland Sklar and, of course, Liberace. What do they have in common? Milwaukee. This is not a trick question.
With writing influences stated as Bartok, Stravinsky, King Crimson and ELP one might think that one is in for some good old Prog. I think this is an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. This isn’t just some Prog band who are bucking a trend set by so many… so very many… other prog bands. Risk feels as if Far Corner are taking their influences and expertly using them as a tool to move music forward into new areas. All this because of, rather than despite, their classic “prog” influences. This means stepping into territory where they must push themselves and the listener that little bit harder.
Their press release makes no bones about the influence so it is no wonder that there’s a bit of a Keith Emerson vibe in places. But then, there’s a Mick Karn on Mariachi Powder vibe in others. By combining a traditional Progressive Rock keyboard arsenal, including Hammond Organ, with stringed instruments and a contemporary bass guitar sound, Far Corner have added an additional dimension to what may otherwise have been a “nailed-it” common-or-garden prog band sound. They have pulled off a rather clever feat. Risk is delivered replete with virtuoso performances, complex arrangements, and adventurous drumming, but so are a million other bands.
Why should Risk command your attention? I am aware that ELP are a bit “Marmite” so don’t let the ELP reference put you off, it is more a common frame of reference. Only in their most accessible moments do Far Corner resemble ELP. I don’t think that reference even surfaces until seven or eight minutes and three tracks in with Flim Flam Man. Although the sound is sometimes underpinned by staccato Hammond, there are pieces of piano accompanied by cello and backed with Mellotron that as far as I’m aware are pure Far Corner. Guitar is missing but not conspicuously so. With melodies carried on a variety of other instruments, including fretless bass and distorted cello, guitar may well be missing but the overall sound is so complete that I don’t miss it at all. And if you’re looking for efficient, complimentary drumming look no further than Oracular Intent where, as everywhere else on the album, the traditional role of drums in a rock band has been usurped by a percussive approach, by which I mean using the drum set as a percussive instrument rather than as a heavily embellished timepiece.
Far Corner seem equally happy placing any of their instruments front and centre. I speculate that this isn’t just paying lip-service to keep the instrumentalists happy in an otherwise ego-driven band. For example, Far Corner are positively promoting the bass as a lead instrument, placing it front and centre. I approve. In fact, the more I listened the more I wanted to hear that bass. If King Crimson were making new music right now instead of being, essentially, the Robert Fripp’s King Crimson Classic Show Case Touring Band then I dare say there’d be a very real chance of William Kopecky being approached as a candidate for the very long list of King Crimson alumni.
Unapproachable is not just a clever name. As the first track on Risk, Far Corner have taken the unorthodox step of slamming a harpsichord headlong into a piece that might have been a long-lost classic early-seventies Progressive Rock track influenced by the Avant Garde. Arguably this might not be the most radio-friendly way of introducing the album. Far Corner’s apparent philosophy may well be to start off weird and take it from there, but it certainly got my attention.
You won’t find any instant hits here. In fact, Far Corner seem to delight in throwing you a curve-ball. The Chickening, for example, one of the more conventional tracks, starts off all Slayer-like but ends up like one of the heavier songs by Yes, and then the next track, Laboratory Missteps, could be straight off the Dali’s Car album. This music will need many listenings before it starts to make sense. The intervals between the notes and the jagged rhythms will possible take you outside of areas where you feel at home. I think that makes them great value for money. If you decide to invest in the album you will do one of two things. You might put it on and decide you don’t have the time to invest in finding the hooks and becoming familiar with this music. It is, at times, difficult to follow. Or you might repeatedly play the album waiting for the penny to drop, perhaps searching for an area of familiarity.
Refreshingly heavy, in places intense and at others sounding downright sinister, Risk possesses elements that could make you feel uncomfortable. If you are looking for a little romantic music to listen to over dinner or to play to your partner as you attempt to seduce them on a sheepskin rug in front of a log fire then this might not be the right music for you. If you’re up for something that’ll make you work that little bit harder, then this should fit the bill perfectly
01. Unapproachable (2:19)
02. Fork (3:52)
03. Flim Flam Man (6:45)
04. Myopia (5:06)
05. Past Deeds, Present Treacheries (7:53)
06. The Chickening (3:24)
07. Fireplay (0:37)
08. Laboratory Missteps (3:56)
09. Summit (9:52)
10. SolonEye (2:40)
11. Oracular Intent (6:36)
12. Night Of Odds (0:59)
13. Alea Ludere (9:21)
Total Time – 63:20
William Kopecky – Bass
Dan Maske – Keyboards, Additional Percussion, Trumpet, Valve Trombone
Angela Schmidt – Cello
Craig Walkner – Drums
Jerry Loughney – Violin (tracks 1,4 & 13)
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Written by Dan Maske, except track 8, composed by Craig Walkner & William Kopecky
Date of Release: 9th November 2018