In a time when heavy hitters such as Sithu Aye, Plini, and Animals as Leaders are all pushing full length releases, there is no shortage of quality progressive instrumental music going around. Along comes Joel Lindfors (of Oceill fame) at the tail end of the year to bring his unique sound into the fray. While not the cohesive epic that Set Course for Andromeda was and not quite as inventive as Handmade Cities, Shift still manages to bring a strong variety and incredible musicianship that comfortably places it among the more prolific releases of this year.
If there’s one thing you can credit Lindfors for accomplishing here, it’s a real sense of variety in instrumentation. No sound feels underutilized, and even aspects like the bass and keyboards really become an integral part of many songs. If you’ve listened to his work on Oceill, then this won’t surprise you. However, I feel the unbound freedom given to Lindfors here has allowed him to be more inventive in his compositions, and his numerous collaborations only help to expand this variety. While not every experimentation lands perfectly – the occasional dissonant melody or electronic sound not hitting as well as I feel it was intended – there is level of diversity and quality throughout its 40+ minute run-time that should be acknowledged.
“Day One” kicks off the album, wasting no time getting into the screeching leads and off beat drum grooves – the tempo drop toward the end being particularly crushing. “Then What” immediately takes you out of this tempo with a smooth jazz arrangement and an experimental feeling. Here he uses an interesting combination of traditional bass patterns and discordant yet harmonious high ends that sounds wholly unique. “Null Point” is perhaps the most approachable track on the album, and the addition of Sithu Aye’s leads makes it a strong point early on in the record.
“Lift” returns to the slower pace with an orchestrated sound for most of its length, and is followed by a powerful and heavy near post-rock climax. “Shift / Analysis” brings back the aggression, along with some interesting piano and a baffling addition of electronica that, while not bad, seems relatively unfitting and mildly disruptive. “The End” greets us as if we were aristocrats before giving us some of the most powerful drums yet – this being where the album really begins to hit its stride in technical musicianship and tone.
The quiet outro of “The End” fades into the beautifully subdued piano in “Day Two”. This counterpart to “Day One” acts as a palate cleanser before the final stretch of the album. “Drift / -4” has a more traditional prog metal sound to it, but also excels by incorporating aggressive instrumentation in the middle section and a devastating ending. This is followed by “Dawn”, which has a distinctly Plini vibe to it and a memorable upbeat segment early on. “Oath” closes the album with more of the same creativeness and talent seen throughout the record.
There is no shortage of heaviness to be found on the album if that’s what you’re looking for, but with it you also get some truly interesting and diverse moments. While some cohesion is sacrificed for these pieces, they make each song stand on its own merits. The production is also noteworthy, as I noticed an appreciable difference in the wideness of the sound stage and space between the instruments when switching to better headphones – though the low end can be a bit overly dominant at times.
I went into this album skeptical, and what I got out of it was a pretty impressive experience. It felt earnest in its approach and there were more than a few moments in which parts of songs really grabbed me. It’s also a perfect length for this type of music: long enough to be satisfying without overstaying its welcome. While I don’t think it quite reaches the impact and memorability of its contemporaries, it does stand as a shining example of the quality that can be found if you give these acts a shot.
Notable Tracks: “Null (feat. Sithu Aye)”; “Drift / -4”; “Dawn (ft. Stephen Taranto)”
FFO: Intervals, Oceill