The Hue: Beyond Words

By: Cal Roach

The Chicago music scene has never really seized on a signature sound, spreading itself around, producing sporadic superstars in a variety of styles. But over the past decade or so, the Windy City has seen an unusual surge in preeminent progressive rock bands, from the post-rock side by way of Tortoise to the metal edge of Pelican and the jamband contingent via Umphrey's McGee. Add to this list the instrumental prog of The Hue, whose debut album, Beyond Words (Reapandsow Music), is more complex yet melodically sophisticated than a debut has any business being.

This style of heavy, no-vox music has a tendency to get lost in Satriani-esque wankery, but right from the opening blast of "Blackout" you'll be headbanging vigorously, even as the melodic hooks nestle almost instantly into your brain. Even at almost eight minutes, it's a concise musical expression, with the eclectic, fusion-tinged drumming of Brian Gilmanov speeding things along without ever settling into a lazy groove.

There will be no avoiding the Umphrey's comparisons for this band. UM fans will hear echoes in the ascending arpeggios of "Igneous Pillow" and the dueling guitar noodling of "Shatter For Now," but the King Crimson methodology is essentially public domain at this point, and more power to the two contemporary bands for keeping it vital.

Perhaps the most engaging aspect of Beyond Words is the way it blends darkness and light. "From Anger" and "Like Lines" both touch on the creepy experimentation of Crimson circa 1974 and temper it with soaring, Brian May-style harmonic guitar flourishes. "Bipolar Pride" is epic pop à la Rush, but it gets an extra kick from the muscular, thrashy chugging and double bass workout that might scare off aging '80s stoners. Still, the bent of the song is so uplifting it might just expand some minds at the same time. Even the unabashed metal of "Waking Visions" is aggressive without being vicious.

The bottom line here is that, while everything on the album brings to mind the obvious influences that make up The Hue, the playing is human, the passion lances out of the speakers, and the craftsmanship isn't stolen. Ultimately, this band will win fans the same way as Buckethead - they'll come for the technical spectacle and they'll stay for the songs, which are liable to be stuck in your head after just one listen.

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[Published on: 10/5/09]

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