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Where do you take rock music now, or an even better question might be, what can you do with it at this point? Where before you were called groundbreaking because you featured a sitar in the background, now artists are using techniques that range from the employ of a small chamber orchestra all the way to the use of DJ cutting and scratching, formerly taboo in the world of rock but now widely respected.

So how do you attain a progressive musical outlook when you basically have to be progressive just to get noticed? One answer is to say "the hell with that" and just see what results, figuring that tried and true songwriting should be more than enough. Hey, the White Stripes did it, and certainly did not come out the worse for keeping it simple, but elegant. However if truly challenging the essence of rock music with electronics and effects interests you, then your judgement is harsh and the rewards are often dim. For all your efforts to move the craft forward, there's progression and then there's what's acceptable. Go too far out there and you risk alienation. On that note, what discussion about progressive music would be complete without MP3.com? A direct slap in the face of record industry control, MP3.com allows the artist to act as their own publisher, agent, and distribution. There's no screening process, no record exec meetings... no bullshit. Just an artist, their music, and the means to spread your art to the willing masses. Bring your songs to them in the form of the much hated and loved mp3 format, and suddenly POOF! an album. Such a subversive system of delivery is bound to attract the harder to pin-down artists, which is why MP3.com is so necessary for getting an understanding of the musical underground.

Chris Keighley's effort, "The Gathering of the Deep", is a product of the MP3.com stable. On first listen, all the yammering I've done on attempting "progression" should become abundantly clear. Not that Keighley's release is filled to the brim with early Genesis-like bleeps and bloops, but there's obvious manipulation on vocals and instruments. Sound comes hollowed out and spacey, downright cosmic on much of the album. There's a lean towards a bluesy kind of improvisational rock; the feeling of not being pinned down to normal time progression and chorus while still paying homage to his rock and roll forefathers. This is a group of musicians having fun with playing around and it becomes evident early on.

But for all the spirit and experimentation at work on "The Gathering of the Deep", the album just cannot garner any sort of critical praise. Some bands get by on a rough and tumble sound; their lack of polish having the same effect as mold does on some foods: an unintended flavor. Keighley's musicianship is merely lacking, it must be said. There's almost no cohesiveness throughout, and many of the tracks come out sounding unrehearsed. Drums trip over guitars in a sometimes embarrassing manner and there seems to be a general looseness at work here. It all feels very rushed and would cause the uninitiated to believe that this is to be expected from MP3.com releases since there is no screening process. There've been many gems on MP3.com for my money; it's just that this isn't one of them.

In all, the songs tend to come out silly and have an unfinished feel to them. Exuberance and creativity are much admired traits, but technique plays an important part when it comes to expression. The technique is lacking on this release, and unfortunately it just so happens to undermine the spirit here.

(Listen here)

--Maurice Downes

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