Album Review :
Michael McCully - Pangram

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Pangram by Michael McCully

Artist: Michael McCully
Title: Pangram
Label: Independent
Release Date: 3/28/2014
Reviewer: Ty DeLong

Tracklisting:

  1. The Beginning and the End
  2. Out of the Frying Pan
  3. Into the Fire
  4. Lukewarm
  5. My Sin, His Death
  6. The Family and the Tree
  7. Hand of God
  8. The False-Positive Blues
  9. Warfare
  10. Redemption

To quote from the artist’s blog, “A pangram is a sentence that includes each letter of the alphabet once and is often used to develop typefaces and calligraphy. This record pulls from so many of my musical inspirations and is difficult to strictly label as rock ‘n’ roll – so much of this record lies outside the vein of rock ‘n’ roll. There are elements of rock, funk, jazz, progressive rock, acoustic and symphonic rock.” After giving the album numerous spins, I would certainly agree with his assessment. Pangram is an instrumental collection that seamlessly flows from track to track and genre to genre. At first it can take some unexpected turns, but then again, that can be a good thing. See the sampler below to get an idea.

The back-story to the album is that it chronicles Michael’s spiritual life, expressing different seasons in instrumental form. A quick glance over the titles indicates that, like many of our stories, it has been an up-and-down journey. The feel of songs certainly follows those movements. Personally, I struggled a bit to discern the exact meaning or intent of the songs without any lyrics to explicitly describe the scene, but the titles do help to guide the listener in thought.

The album opens with a track that is almost exclusively keys and synth. It wasn’t exactly what I expected after hearing a few samples ahead of time, but it sets a somber tone, which made me feel right at home as a fan of post-rock. The feel doesn’t last too long, however, as the second track breaks in with a grooving and popping bass line. As one might expect, “Out of the Frying Pan” and “Into the Fire” seem act as partner songs. Both feature upbeat instrumentation and a bit of groove. One of several “wow moments” for me occurred in the opening of the latter track. Out of the gate, the song hits hard with noodling guitar and intense drumming that would be at home on a progressive metal album. As a sucker for technicality, I loved much of the guitar and drum work featured on “Into the Fire,” which I would consider my favorite track.

Now may be a good time to pause and explain that McCully wrote, produced, and recorded virtually all of the album by himself. Some friends are featured here and there, but the bulk was composed and performed by one man. While that would be impressive in most any case, the diversity of styles shown on the album makes it particularly noteworthy. One can tell that he poured hours of himself into the project, and the quality shows it. At the same time, nothing feels over-produced, as can often be the case with the plethora of tools available to artists.

The middle portion of the album leads in with another metal-influenced section in “Lukewarm” before transitioning into more progressive territory akin to Becoming the Archetype or Extol. It weaves through various sonic realms, leaning heavily on rock, but verging on funk, as well. (I believe I even heard homage to a classic rock track toward the end, though I forget the name of it.) Next, “My Sin, His Death” contains one of the most divergent portions of the record, something that almost sounds mariachi-influenced. It threw me at first, but if August Burns Red can pull it off, then so can other artists. However, a flamenco-style guitar midway through returns the darker edge the album has mostly held to this point. It leads to “The Family and The Tree” which features noteworthy acoustic stylings and a more laid-back feel compared to many of the other offerings.

Another fascinating thing about the album is the way that it flows from one track to the next. While writing this review, I had to intentionally play the them one-by-one to be sure I knew which one I was hearing. It’s been a while since I heard an album that so intentionally blurs the lines between tracks, and it’s a neat effect. Naturally, this makes the songs function better in the context of the album versus standalone, but I feel like this was a very conscious decision by the artist.

In the home stretch of the album, the rock edge returns with “The Hand of God,” “The False-Positive Blues,” and “Warfare.” The exception is a movement in the center track which features organ and literal blues-style guitar work. Even then, pounding drums keep the feel slightly heavy before the pace picks up again. The closing track, “Redemption,” is a ballad which opens with beautiful dueling acoustic leads before full instrumentation kicks in. The arc certainly leaves the listener with a feel of triumph, ending on a high note and a huge classic rock and roll finale.

Overall:  Pangram is an instrumental concept album which lives up to its namesake, borrowing pieces from a plethora of genres. The more I listen to this album, the more details I draw out, and the more I’m able to appreciate its twists and turns. Keys, shredding solos, grooving bass lines, flamenco picking, and blast beats all make appearances in the course of ten diverse tracks. If you’re looking for an album that maintains one consistent style, it may not be your cup of tea, but any fan of meticulous instrumental music should definitely give it a spin.

RIYL (instrumentally): Becoming the Archetype, Extol, Across the Sun, Dream Theater, Opeth

Pangram is available on iTunes, and CDBaby. Additionally, you can keep up with Michael McCully on Twitter and SoundCloud.

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