(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

CD review - Null Paradox, The Onion and the Ants: Gertrude and Grace (2010)

Rich vocals and intriguing prog complexity

The first thing that jumps out on The Onion and the Ants: Gertrude and Grace is Crystal Sherry's strong, warm voice. She shifts from sweet honey to steel when the song needs to raise a harder edge. She blends Karen Carpenter's lushness with Annie Haslam's (Renaissance) smooth range and adds a touch of Ann Wilson's punchy delivery.

If Sherry's voice drives most of the songs, the tight, balanced arrangements give her the room to work with. On songs like Black and White, the pieces fall together to create a piquant complexity. Shards of guitar set the initial stage, then the rhythm joins in. The combination of the initial guitar riff (left), a hypnotic fill melody (right), and Sherry's voice (center) fit together in a rich hard rock quilt. Subtle shades of feedback and a stalking bass line color the mix.

Null Paradox is rooted a set of ideas that band leader Tom Libertiny is still exploring. Initially, the band was intended to realize a concept album based on his book idea: The Onion and the Ants. With songs representing chapters, the two projects have become intertwined, with the book expanding into a series. The first book is due out soon.

The album has a coherent sound, but without the hint from the band, it might be hard to extract a story line for the album. In their promotional material, Null Paradox presents the premise as a choice between the love of your life (orange) and your destiny (purple). That provides some context for the songs, like the frustration on Small or the pervasive conflict related in The Ministry. Having the book would offer another facet for enjoying the album, but the songs all stand well on their own merits.

Throughout The Onion and the Ants..., Null Paradox mines a wonderful mix of lush modern rock and rich progressive rock. The Cell was one of my favorite tracks. The opening is spare and orchestral. Sherry's voice is low and breathy. Then, the song slips into a progressive groove that reminds me a bit of Steven Wilson, because of how the arpeggiated guitar part plays against the bass line. As The Cell negotiates a number of musical sections, it maintains an intriguing sense of contrast between open and tight channels and organic flow pushing against mechanical drive.

The final track, Glass Desert, briefly evokes Tori Amos, with a whisper vocal and piano line. But the band defies expectation, carrying the track into a laid back bluesy space. A heavier interlude overwhelms the looser groove, but a closer listen shows the two parts coexisting. The horn solo (about 4 minutes in) adds its jazzy smoke.

Null Paradox may be a "concept band", but Tom Libertiny has added some interesting artistic voices to his ideas. Browse their web site for more info. The video section has some cool info about the progression of developing the songs.

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