Graded on a Curve:
De Lorians,
De Lorians

Based in Tokyo and extant from 2016, De Lorians have been tersely described as a spiritual and psychedelic group, though the five-member outfit’s founder Takefumi Ishida has additionally explained that “Zappa is God among us,” a tidbit of info that will surely inspire diversity of reaction. But Ishida’s statement doesn’t tidily encapsulate what’s happening on this eponymous debut record, as lovers of the Canterbury scene and prog-fusion in general will find a nugget here, as will those who preferred Frank when he kept his trap shut. It’s out July 24 digitally, as a digipak CD, and on both standard black wax and a clear edition with a neon orange blob and neon violet splatter via Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records.

The above comment on Zappa’s trap might seem mean, but it serves a deeper purpose than to just dig at the guy, as it illuminates how, for this record at least, De Lorians are essentially a sans vocals affair. To be clear, I happen to hold Zappa’s Mothers of Invention material from ’66-’70 (plus early “solo” records Lumpy Gravy and Hot Rats) in varying levels of generally high esteem, and hey, it’s a run of discs that was loaded with vocals.

But a marked change in Frank’s approach in the early ’70s is plainly acknowledged in the PR for this record. The label states that across De Lorians’ sides there is “no singing, no poodle play, just constant surprises, rich vibes, and heavy fun.” Along with avoiding the obvious pitfalls of “risky” toilet-humor, the band, while diving deep into a contemporarily niche style rather than embodying any sort of cutting-edge (the instrumental adeptness is indisputable, though), nicely sidestep the datedness that is hard to separate from the output of Zappa the satirist.

De Lorians are intricate, but they’re never pompous, and at 32 minutes, their debut doesn’t overstay its welcome. The label’s mention of Weasels Ripped My Flesh is on the money, though I also had Hot Rats (a personal Zappa fave) cross my mind more than once. Thrice, even. But maybe most importantly, the record can be easily situated as a descendant of Soft Machine and even Gong.

In fact, the opening seconds of “Daytona” are tangibly spacy (pretty fitting, given the excellent cover illustration by Jan Buragay) though not stereotypically trippy. But then the horns come in, with Ishida credited with alto and baritone sax plus saxello (a close neighbor to the soprano sax, don’tcha know), and the Zappoid feel becomes irrefutable.

However, as the scenario unwinds a more general aura of prog-fusion begins to dominate. Ishida has mentioned how a discovery of Pharaoh Sanders’s Karma inspired a personal transformation, and while that’s observable, “Daytona” still strikes my ear as more about time-signature wiggle action than ecstatic spiritual gush and glide, and that’s perfectly fine.

Also cool is how De Lorians unfurls like one multitiered piece, with “Daytona” leading directly into the nicely dark-edged “Magso” and then jump-cutting into “A Ship of Mental Health,” that portion keyboard-driven (at least initially), courtesy of Hyozo Shiratori, and Classically tinged, though it wastes no time adjusting to a midsection of collage vérité. From there, “Gomata” asserts horn and keyboard dominance, but Soya Nogami’s guitar adds some swell effects-laden touches and bassist Genki Goto and drummer Syzeuhl Meme Joyer are as lithe as they are heavy.

With “Roccotsu,” the spacy quality returns but morphs into horn blowing that’s far more tranquil than searching. This is unfortunate but far from disastrous, though before long the full band emerges with some counterbalancing oomph, and the tail end reminds me a little of Gary Bartz ruminating upon The Doors’ inclinations toward the pop charts. Still, Ishida’s stated interest in easy listening does shine through.

But as said, De Lorians don’t linger in one spot for too long, with the next section “Himilia” one of the record’s highpoints, in part through Goto’s cello. There is considerable instrumental doubling (and tripling) on the record and during “Himilia” in particular, with Nogami either playing Didgeridoo or diving into some Khöömii throat singing (he’s credited with both). Really, my only quibble with the track is that it’s over too quickly (interestingly and somewhat unsurprisingly, in live performance the band sometimes reassemble their music into new suites that can run longer than the length of this album).

At 34 seconds, “Daytona Reprise” delivers yet another (in this case understandable) study in succinctness. With some guest flute. I’ll add that De Lorians’ combination of brevity, versatility and energy firmly encourages immediate repeated play, which isn’t something I regularly say about prog affiliated releases. In this regard, it keeps company with (amongst a few others) King Crimson, Soft Machine, Magma, and even a couple by ol’ Frank.

De Lorians don’t yet sustain as high a level of quality the best of that list, but the potential is surely there. Closer “Toumai” does stretch out for over seven minutes as it showcases horns and guitar (plus fuzz bass and keyboard) amid numerous structural changes and a deft ebbing and flowing intensity throughout. Moments fleetingly reminded me of Boredoms and Hampton Grease Band.

And y’know, Zappa might dominate as an influence, but certainly not more than Robert Fripp did on the early work of Richard Pinhas (he of the great French progsters Heldon). It suffices to say that fans of progressive rock will want to investigate De Lorians now rather than play catch-up later.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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