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Stick Men - Prog Noir album review

King Crimson’s rhythm section, aka Stick Men, stays weird and wonderful.

Stick Men - Prog Noir album cover

Drummer Pat Mastelotto and bassist Tony Levin must rank as two of rock’s busiest musicians. They’re both members of King Crimson, while Levin is also a prolific session musician and a regular in Peter Gabriel’s band, and Mastelotto’s projects include O.R.k. and Komara. Somehow they’ve still found time to make four albums as Stick Men, in which their trio is completed by guitarist Markus Reuter. The music is uncompromisingly odd and all the better for it.

The bulk of the material is instrumental and when the human voice does appear, it’s often in the form of an unsettlingly menacing narrator. In Plutonium they namedrop Carl Orff, Yes and Tchaikovsky, throwing out their own funhouse-mirror versions of refrains from Carmina Burana, Roundabout and The 1812 Overture. With Levin playing a Chapman Stick and Reuter employing an extended-range guitar, the sound is heavy on low frequencies, filling tracks like Prog Noir and The Tempest with a grumbling intensity. Mastelotto’s grooves are the motor behind the music, from his crisp rolls in Embracing The Sun to the knotty twists of Schattenhaft. Musically nimble and articulate, there’s more to these Stick Men than simple straight lines.