Chicagoland locals Dissona, two albums deep, are on the verge of a breakthrough. Not musically, however, as they have already achieved the interesting songwriting and powerful construction. No, these boys just need to be heard and, with any luck, Paleopneumatic will propel them into the ears of progressive fans everywhere.
Their first album, Dissona (available for the attractive Name Your Price option), is certainly a “first album,” rife with experimentation and a mix that would have most listeners reaching for the volume button or, worse, ‘Stop.’ It’s a great album, but lacks the finesse and understanding that four years of growth and an understated near-obsession can provide.
With Paleopneumatic, however, Dissona seem to “get it.” Yet another foray into the neurotic abyss known as self-production, guitarist Matt Motto labored endlessly searching for that fabled “perfect mix.” Though it does not necessarily exist by any stretch of the imagination, the warm, resonant sound produced throughout Paleopneumatic certainly complements the interesting and dynamic journey through each track.
Paleopneumatic begins with what we in the industry call “a banger.” “Another Sky” is a 9-and-a-half minute monster that sets the tone of the album, from its eerie electronic intro to vocalist David Dubenic‘s gruff baritone underlaid by Motto’s guitar work and thoughtful drum work by drummer Drew Goddard. Shining just as brightly is bassist Craig Hamburger, who intonates powerfully when guitars have taken a rest. And this is all just in the first track.
Paleopneumatic continues on, each track evoking a sort of primordial essence in its movements, and thus echoing the name—”Paleo,” the short form of “paleolithic,” exampling the early phase of the Stone Age and “pneumatic” to relate to one’s spirit. With that in mind, you have to treat the lyrical values, as well as the music itself, as a grand conjuration of the basic essences of man—the cathartic release of raw emotional power. Many moments express this very notion, like the marching drive on “Fire-Bellied,” the somber wails of “Outside the Skin,” the exasperation of “Breach,” the all-encompassing oscillation of “Totality,” and even more to enjoy.
All these tracks followed by the compelling lead single “Odium,” Paleopneumatic doesn’t truly offer any respite from its fervor, save for its 2-minute piano-driven interlude “Anastomosis.” This short reprieve only brings listeners back with “Lysis,” which deceptively leads with a similar piano intro only to introduce crunchy guitars and Dubenic reaching an octave higher than the rest of the album to add a further hint of desperation to his voice. “The Last Resistance” and “Sunderance” work in tandem with one another, signifying an end to this monumental album. Perhaps relieving? Perhaps tragic? A bit of both? The words only say so much while saying so little.
Paleopneumatic is highly engrossing from beginning to end, almost as if it’s paralleling life itself, from the chaotic entrance, the peaks and valleys that comprise the entirety of human existence, and the somber, slow extinguishment as we are relieved of our breath. The way these four members work together to craft such an interesting album that can be analyzed from different perspectives should be enough to engage longtime progressive fans or intrigue newcomers to the style.
For such a great album, however, it’s hard to say it has drawbacks, but there are a few lulls to be found on Paleopneumatic—not necessarily enough to detract from the overall quality of the record, but enough to question some of the compositional decisions. “Breach,” in all of its chaos, stands as one of the most uninteresting tracks and, though it is quite tinged with black metal flavor, would have been better blended into the whole instead of provided as its own instance. It even questionably introduces a sitar sound, which is never to be heard again. Immediately after, “Totality” feels equally weak, especially when measured against several of the other tracks, but it does come packaged with one of the finer outros—an interwoven dance between Motto’s tasty lead and soaring female vocals provided by Desirée Hassler.
It’s hard to fault Dissona for their missteps here, however. The chasm of quality between their 2012 debut and 2016’s Paleopneumatic is stunningly admirable, with the latter standing tall all on its own. Newcomers to the band would do well to listen to their previous album to fully appreciate the amount of growth four short years can provide. If Paleopneumatic isn’t the album that rockets Dissona into the progressive zeitgeist, then we may just be too undeserving of their talents.