I’ve always thought of the term “music blogger” as being somewhat restrictive. It seems like such an unimaginative term for an overlooked cornucopia of enlightenment. It is, unfortunately, far too easy to become numb to the everyday processes of searching for new music, weighed down by the sheer banality of it all. On the other hand, I have witnessed an uncomfortable number of music bloggers fall victim to the competitive, quasi-political nature of the cutthroat world they live in. I believe it is essential to leave both of these attitudes behind. Rather than a “music blogger,” I think the term “aural adventurer” might be more appropriate, or perhaps even “sonic expeditioner.” Why do I remain passionate about finding new music? It’s about the journey, not the destination. This is a core philosophy that applies to the world of music as much as it applies to life itself. The other night, I walked out the door with nothing but my iPod and a pair of Sennheiser headphones, eager to embark on such a journey. As my legs took me across the beautiful campus of the University of Miami, I retreated into my mental space – my inner theater – and embraced the sonic landscape that was beginning to form.
The album of choice for the night was Square Pegs Round Holes by Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, a band which I had never heard of before. I stumbled upon them quite by happenstance, thanks to the wonders of the Internet. The first words used to describe the group that I read were “improvisational progressive rock band.” Boy, did that get me excited. I knew from that moment on that I owed it to myself to at least check out some of their music. Approximately 67 minutes later, I found myself in a state of amazement as the full splendor of Square Pegs Round Holes sank in.
The album starts off fairly tamely with the opening song, “Giants.” This is a piece that is sure to be enjoyed by just about everyone, as it follows a rather familiar song structure and uses contemporary pop harmony. Soon enough, however, the musical journey takes a turn for the wild. With a name like “Bob the Wondercat,” it should come as no surprise that the second song of the album goes off the beaten path with a reference to early psychedelia in the form of a blistering Moogish synth solo. Juxtapose that with organ pads, tasty guitar riffs, and crystal clear piano noodling, and you’ve got yourself a jam on par with the classic Moody Blues style. This is an early indicator of what Ultraviolet Hippopotamus has in store for us: extended compositions that aren’t afraid of traversing the vibrant landscapes of many contrasting sonic textures, rejecting commercial song form without losing any of its continuity.
Several bongo hits later, we get to the title track of the record. Although the instrumental prowess of the band is certainly the main focal point, the vocals should not be discounted. Even amidst all of the intense, fast-fingered pandemonium, they’re still able to deliver a loud, rousing chorus. I should add at this point that the count of prevailing genres within the group’s music has easily exceeding comprehension. This is by no means a detracting characteristic. On the contrary, I have come to accept a certain rule of thumb in my everlasting quest for new music: the harder it is to classify a band under a single stylistic label, the more authentic and innovative their music is. I had a very similar problem (although not at all frustrating) when writing about Papadosio‘s newest album several months ago.
Ultraviolet Hippopotamus is a band that shows a clear eagerness to embrace and incorporate a whole array of styles in their music. For me, this is the sign of an enlightened musician. There are so many styles that have evolved in the world of music, all of them incredible yet completely independent of each other. When we, as artists, pull influence from more than just one of these rich cultural ideologies, we bring ourselves closer to a single, collective human entity.
In my opinion, “Medicine” is the true magnum opus of the album. Clocking in at twelve minutes, this piece is a true progressive rock-inspired composition. The song transforms itself several times, and with each new incarnation comes a whole new mood setting. There are clear throwbacks to the development of early progressive music in the ’70s – the bluesy riffs, the atmospheres of funky psychedelia, the recurring motifs – it all coalesces into a true masterpiece of sound.
Square Pegs Round Holes is a brilliant display of complete artistic creation. There is a feeling of oneness that unites all of the songs on the album. They mesh together in a way that gives truth to the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, then I would highly recommend you join Ultraviolet Hippopotamus on this expedition through a beautiful world of sound.