Sgt. - Stylus Fantasticus

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"Even though it’s a great tool for getting the hype machine in motion for an up and coming act, “the breath of fresh air” tag is something of a dubious honor. For one, it’s an admittance that the kind of music said act plays has grown stale and tired, and secondly, it instills a certain expectation in the band’s target audience that this group will be the revolutionary force (inset lame genre tag here) needs. On their sprawling debut Stylus Fantasticus, Japanese trio sgt. may not quite prove themselves to be such a force, but they certainly prove themselves to be a group with a refreshingly interesting take on the increasingly tired post rock genre. Instead of participating in the laborious techniques of their peers, sgt. attacks with spontaneity and a heavy penchant for improvisation, making Stylus Fantasticus something of a refreshing oddity. It’s as though sgt. aren’t so much composing epic pieces as they are jamming in a studio and recording it. The results are predictably hit or miss, but when sgt. hits, the unique and memorable sound buoys Stylus Fantasticus to great heights, even if it can’t quite stay there for the whole fifty-five minutes.

Even though it apparently falls under post rock’s ever-growing umbrella, Stylus Fantasticus takes a heavy influence from modern prog, giving the record a harder base than its contemporaries. Instead of epic dynamic contrasts and gorgeous repeated phrases, the album instead runs at a more frenzied pace, allowing constant melody and ace rhythm performances to form eight tracks of instrumental chaos. Stylus Fantasticus runs in a very specific frame: Each song develops a drum and bass theme (courtesy of the excellent Kouji Akashi and Hitoshi Ono), which in turn provides a solid foundation for violinist/pianist Mikiko Narui to build melodies that practically engulf the listener in sgt.’s sound. The opening track “Magnificent Light” serves as a great example of this by incorporating gorgeous piano playing over a jagged guitar base for four minutes of relaxed, carefree jamming. It serves as a fine preclude for the beast that follows, the asymmetrical blazer “The dilemma-game of snatched people.” Unlike the preceding track, “Dilemma-game” utilizes sgt.’s immensely talented rhythm section to run at a furious clip for 6 minutes, officially kicking off Stylus Fantasticus and introducing the world to sgt.'s definite skill at free-flowing improvisational mayhem.
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