Druckfarben are a talented group of musicians who write classic 70's prog with modern flavors. Second Sound is a fantastic response to their debut album and will garner interest with fans of Yes, Rush, and Kansas.
Time: 8 tracks / 57:00 minutes
Recently, I've been listening to a lot of newer bands who cross a number of genres, incorporating all of their musical influences in new and unique ways. For that reason I'm very glad I stumbled upon Druckfarben's bandcamp and gave their self-titled album a listen, because this Canadian five-piece is a perfect example of a band with roots in everything prog – a fact that contributes to their very classic 70's sound. Druckfarben's big keyboards and guitar-led sections, accompanied by a strong voice that strongly reminds me of Geddy Lee's, was a breath of fresh air. Or maybe it was nostalgia. Either way, while I love new-era progressive rock, sometimes you need a reminder of what started this whole musical genre in the first place. Druckfarben certainly haven't forgotten.
The band are guitarist Ed Bernard, bassist Peter Murray, keyboardist William Hare, drummer Troy Feener, and singer Phil Naro. From the band's bio, "druckfarben" is a German word meaning "coloured ink used for printing on textiles or other media." In the mid-80s, the height of their high school years, Ed and Troy discovered it stenciled on mysterious black barrels in their rehearsal studio. That sense of surrounding mystery, in addition to its status as an inside joke, it is perhaps the reason it resurfaced years later as the band name. Regardless, I like the idea the name conjures of colorful ink and blank canvases for creative purposes.
Second Sound begins with "An Answer Dreaming," a 7-minute track with plenty of movement, nicely enveloped by an introductory keyboard passage that reprises at the song's conclusion. Whereas the band's first album featured mostly average-length tracks with a couple longer pieces, Second Sound has an average song length of 7 minutes and concludes with a 19-minute epic. After some initial conversations between keys and guitar, "An Answer Dreaming" becomes a very Rush-esque bass/guitar ride. Phil's vocals enter two minutes in, hanging over shimmering guitar chords and restless bass movement. I love the interaction between Will's keyboard licks and Peter's bass runs – unison, call-and-response, and trading lead. The track concludes with a rapid guitar solo and a return to the introductory keyboard passage.
"In Disbelief," the shortest song on Second Sound, has some of my favorite guitar licks on the album. There's tight interaction between drums and bass as well, with tight chops and solos traded between guitars and synth, as well as a bit of an organ ballad in the middle. Throughout the track, Phil riffs on variations of, "Anything here can go wrong / We can only try to play along / Tomorrow brings another day / Suspend yourself in disbelief."
"Dandelion" is just a cool track no matter how you dissect it. The song carves a distinct presence for itself on the album via heavy flanger, driving bass, and prominent violin – an instrument of Ed's which makes its debut on Druckfarben's second album. Phil's vocals on "Dandelion" are superb as well: I love the varying textures of the vocal harmonies here – the octave-below doubled parts and vibrant color tones that also appear elsewhere on Second Sound are particularly prominent on "Dandelion."
The band dives into a funk vibe on "Liberated Dream." Peter, whose playing remains overall fantastic, gets a quick bass solo toward the conclusion. In my opinion, he shines on Second Sound – sitting in the pocket with Troy, grooving when Troy grooves, and keeping pace with Ed on unison passages and other rapid-fire sections. "Liberated Dream" is a funky track, bass- and wah-driven, with quick stabs from Will on the keys, haunting organ patches, and solos traded amongst all instruments (save drums).
Phil's vocal work on "Long Walk Home," a lush piano ballad, is fantastic. The opening lines work in harmonic opposition, sharing and trading lyrics before Will's synth lead takes the helm. Orchestral strings and piano conclude this uplifting song about "keep[ing] on the rails" and seeing the "long walk home" to its conclusion. This track, the approximate halfway point of the album, is a respite in the midst of otherwise fast-paced songs – the moment of reflection in the midst of the overall expression.
"Surrounds Me" was a track that grew on me with subsequent listens. This song is principally a guitar and keys track, moving gently out of the "Long Walk Home" sentiment until the 3-minute mark where heavy fuzz bass takes over and Ed pumps out a quick guitar solo. The instrumental breakdown immediately afterward is another highlight for me – the back and forth between keys and drums, the bass progression, and then the overall unison riff which brings the instrumental section to its conclusion. Will doubles Phil's vocals on the synth early in the track, and reprises the main melody toward the song's conclusion, where the energy fades to a mostly reflective lull before one final chorus. There is brief but strong acoustic guitar presence on the choruses, and Troy's snare rolls on the verses are a nice addition to the overall motion of the song.
A mandolin introduces "Another Day," a mostly instrumental track which begins with some more beautiful vocal harmonies. This is the band's first venture into symphonic prog on Second Sound and might be my favorite track on the album. It acts as an overture of sorts for the grand finale, the "Second Sound" suite, showcasing each band member's strengths, moving through a number of time and tempo changes, and making good use of theme and variation. The track features nice unison passages between bass, synth, and guitar, some furious double-bass runs from Troy, and another funky keys/bass breakdown in 7/8. The triumphant outro of harmonizing guitar licks fades to an a cappella reprise of the introduction: "Outside in the night / Your eyes are wide and afraid / Closed tight in the never-knowing / The only peace you've ever known."
"Second Sound," the album's 18+ minute title track, begins with a restless keyboard passage, haunted by undefined echoes in the background and the return of Ed's violin, which infuses the track's introduction with a Celtic timbre – especially when it is doubled by mandolin. Like "Another Day," the track is overall very symphonic, with big metal chords and string patches. Acoustic guitar lends a brightness to the wall of sound supporting Phil's vocals, undergirded by Peter holding down pedaltones and filling the gaps beneath choruses. There are synth leads throughout, guitar solos aplenty, back-and-forth play between guitars and violins, ethereal breakdowns, and even some banjo. This massive undertaking concludes beautifully with Phil's solo vocal rising over a pair of acoustic guitars, bringing an otherwise high-energy album to a stripped-back, melodic conclusion. Sometimes prog epics lose their way by trying to be experimental, but this one retains interest by sticking to song-writing, punctuated by tight instrumental sections. Its focus is less self-aware than some: instead of specifically trying to write an epic, the band wrote a number of songs and married them all together to form this larger piece. The end result is supremely successful on this album.
I was watching a video Ed posted on Facebook where the members of the band almost unanimously agreed that Druckfarben is still in the process of discovering its "sound." To some degree, I can understand this sentiment – especially as my band is in the process of writing our own sophomore album. But on the other hand, there are some aspects to Druckfarben's music that are already well-defined. There are a lot of similarities between Second Sound and their self-titled release: Ed's Kansas-style guitar sounds and playing style; Peter's profound bass presence; Phil's metal-influenced singing, which is immediately distinctive; Will's classical training that lends itself to technical synth passages; Troy's pocket playing, tight rolls, and impeccable time-keeping. These are all intrinsic elements of Druckfarben – the qualities which each band member individually represents. Though they are unified in performance, each shines individually: the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, after all. I think it's safe to say that Second Sound builds on the foundation the band previously laid with its debut release. The only radically "new" inclusion is the prominence of Ed's violin, although "Nonchalant" – the 7+ minute closing track on Druckfarben – also has string presence, both from violin and mandolin, so that "Celtic feel" was already beginning to develop on their first record. In that regard, maybe "finding a sound" is akin to settling into the new pair of shoes you've already bought. Personally, I hope Druckfarben keeps the pair they've been wearing out for some time now.
In sum, the band write music that is very much classic 70's prog with some modern flavors and the recording quality of the modern era. If you love Yes and Rush, Gentle Giant and Kansas, all mixed together with some celtic and residual metal flavors on top, don't miss Druckfarben's Second Sound. The album drops tomorrow.