PRAGMA - PRAGMA
Pragma is an experimental, progressive rock band from Charleston, West Virginia, and experimental is an understatement. If you want a trippy journey through a weird and wonderful sonic land, then listen to Pragma, the self-titled debut album from the band of the same name. "Synapsis-Existential" is a fascinating opener because it comes in segments.
The first part is a cacophony of beautiful, eerie sounds that overlap to create a psychedelic anthem. Then, unexpectedly, chugging electric guitar finds itself playing alone, creating a stark and intimate new segment. And when the vocals kick into the mix, they really boom with such a surprising energy. I wasn't ready for that. And as the rock instrumentation ascends towards large, arena-filling, catchy hooks, those vocals step up a notch. Pragma's lead singer can hit some impressive vocal highs; he can really hold them too. I was blown away by some of the elongated, powerful notes that he unleashed. Obviously, I found myself focusing on the complex rock instrumentation, but that powerful voice really took prominence when it burst into the mix. All in all, this six-minute track was such a journey of sounds that I couldn't believe I'd only listened to one song by the band when it finished. That's progressive rock; a band such as Pragma can cover an eclectic range of ideas in one track, rather than one album.
"Edge of a Dream" was a wonderful curveball too. Given the Mastodon-esque progressive style of the intro, I wasn't ready for a different breed of complexity; clean guitar takes prominence on this track, and there's almost a Radiohead vibe to the dissonant, twisted arpeggios on this hauntingly beautiful song. I absolutely love the sonic landscape that Pragma crafts on this song. And, again, it's halfway into this six-minute song that the instrumental gives way to something new, essentially diving into what most bands would separate into a brand-new track. Soaring vocals screech atop classic hard-rock riffs that carry such an upbeat, yet ultra-heavy tone. There's something very Iron Maiden about this sudden switch-up, and I wouldn't have expected it from the first segment of the track. But I'm definitely a music listener who appreciates variety. It keeps me engaged, especially when moving through a track-list of six-minute progressive tunes on an 11-track album.
And there are plenty of other surprising moments on the record, but I mean that in the best way. "Song of Orpheus" has a funky flavor to it that I never would've expected from Pragma. Some of the guitar licks and twangs in the verses carry such a feel-good flavor to them. It's clear that Terry McGee and Dennis Farrar are influenced by such a wide range of artists in a wide range of genres. On "Song of Orpheus" in particular, I really think they latched onto a catchy vocal hook. In the choruses, the harmonizing is so infectious. But that's not to say the band has completely deviated from the sound present on the rest of the album. The complexity of the instrumentation is still there, as is the rock vibe at the heart of the track. There are some wonderful solos on this song, and the lead guitar has a sizzling tone; the distortion really puts it above the rest of the instrumentation. There are some wonderful synth leads warbling in and out of the mix too. It's just one of many examples that demonstrate how wonderfully Pragma can deliver a top-notch song, no matter what genre they adapt. The closer, “Transmigration," has a darkly-melancholic electric guitar arpeggio and heartfelt, emotive vocals in the first segment. You never know what ground they're going to cover, but you know they'll cover it well. That's the perfect summary for this album.
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