December is a relentless beast. I, as a music nerd and writer, am expected to keep up with the year’s music still being released while catching up on all the stuff I missed out on the first time around. Woe is me, right? In an exercise of the former in my dilemma, I seemingly chose to look into &cet, an album I’m not entirely sure how to pronounce, by As Follows, a collaborative progressive rock band from Brooklyn, New York, at random. To my surprise, I found a nice slice of prog eliciting memories from Back in the Day™ that gets partially marred by its own lofty ambitions in pursuit of that old sound.
Listening to this album reminds me of listening to music with my parents when I was younger. Their penchant for the rock of their era like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Rush, and Kansas all definitely impressed upon me as a kid, and this brings me back to that time. This is made easier by the production choices made by As Follows, who deliberately aim for that well-worn and warm old-school touch. It’s not dated or past its prime as much as it is aged (yes, there’s a difference, we’ve been through this before). Here we get humming, weighty bass, and delightfully simple rock percussion to keep rhythm. Vocals are well enunciated, the singers come through very nicely in the mix, one of them even sounding like a young Jon Anderson (Yes) on the song “Purple Prose”. And the guitar…oh boy.
The guitar is everywhere here. It’s progressive rock first, but brings in so many influences, from flamenco-spiked Spanish guitar to classic rock riffing. It’s not uncommon to hear the guitars take on multiple forms and styles in one song while retaining their overall tones (granted the shortest song here is eight minutes and 16 seconds, so there’s lots of room for instrumental progression). Acoustic guitar is also prominent, like in the beginning of “Father to Son”. Layered with a pretty flute piece, it creates a nice ambiance for the twelve-plus minute sullen retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “Farmer Giles of Ham” goes full Iron Maiden, if only for a few seconds, with a driving guitar passage near the end of the song. It might seem like I’m describing a hodgepodge of noise and…well, maybe I am, but it melds together very well! Since all of these sounds and influences can be traced back to the era of music this album emulates, it comes out cohesively in spite of itself and doesn’t lack identity.
As progressive as &cet is, its brighter moments are more informed by 70s rock, proto-metal, and even a little blues. For every time signature-morphing guitar passage like the ones in the intro to “Purple Prose”, there’s a smooth, classically-tinged riff or solo somewhere else. “Father to Son” is a time capsule showcase of these rock tenets, complete with slow, almost doomish riffing during some verses that harmonize expertly with a synth organ. It smacks of early Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but less erratic and more straightforward in melody. The latter half of the song is mostly an instrumental affair and rife with neat rock solos that I imagine my dad air guitaring like a nerd to in his car. As much as it might sound like it, that’s not a negative by any means. But now that I mention it, I do have a qualm with this album, and it’s a fairly large one.
By the time we get through the first three tracks, everything has sounded nice and tight. The fourth and final track, “Megalith Book VI”, changes that formula by doubling down on the early conceptual prog rock. This is a 22-minute spacey opus, mostly driven by spoken word of a couple bible verses, sparse drums, and synths that create a hazy, somewhat flat synthwave-esque atmosphere. This would be okay for an introduction totaling a couple minutes, but it stretches on and on to just over half of the track, eleven minutes and some change. It’s only interesting the first couple times, then you just want to get back to the music. Unless you’re really devoted to the theatrics of it all, you’ll find yourself skipping this part more often than not. Once you get to the meat of the song, it’s more of the same as the previous three tracks with some 70s psych-rock worship thrown in for good measure, and a solid female vocalist handling the singing. I do commend As Follows for branching out and attempting to mix things up, but I feel like a bulk of this last track was largely unnecessary, and a sizable slight against the great momentum &cet had.
As Follows do know how to put on a show, and maybe I lack the proper context to enjoy their elaborate eccentricities, but the skill and passion is all there. Regardless of how I feel about its perceived shortcomings, I can’t and won’t deny that this is a (mostly) perfectly executed love letter to progressive rock and its bygone golden era. Heart goes a long way with music like that, and &cet has it. I went all this time without elaborating on how the band was a collaborative effort, but there were many musicians (three singers alone) that contributed on this album. It all makes sense, a project as grand and well-produced as this likely has several hands in the mix. If you grew up with old progressive rock and proto-metal bands, the nostalgia should tickle certain parts of your brain. There’s a sweet organic tone and feel to this music, and it’s lovely. Check it out!
Notable Tracks: “Farmer Giles of Ham”; “Father to Son”; “Purple Prose”
FFO: Yes; Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Jethro Tull; classic prog rock in general