Pelegrin – Ways of Avicenna Review

Avicenna is the Westernized name for Second Century Islamic poet, philosopher, theologian, physician, astronomer, and general writing powerhouse, Ibn Sina. Noteworthy in the history of all of these disciplines—particularly in the Islamic tradition—and carrying an aura of mysticism in his verse, you can imagine the young disciple of Pelegrin’s Ways of Avicenna treasuring the manuscript they take to protect from invading 15th-Century Spaniards. Over their wanderings through the desert, an ethereal soundscape of psychedelic rock ebbs and flows like the undulating dunes of sand. In a style that sways between chilled-out stoner and prog rock, Pelegrin paint a hazy desert vibe with a broad brush. This is the trio’s second full-length, and it seems to lean a little more heavily on atmosphere than its predecessor Al​-​Mahruqa. What transpires over its thirty-five or so minutes is mellow, melodic, and mostly mild-mannered, but just too inconsistent to be great.

It’s clear what Pelegrin were going for in terms of overall sound, and this they nail. Wobbly, crooning guitars rising up into the air; relaxed, shuffling tempos, softly keening cleans; warm, reverberating bass tones. This isn’t to say they aren’t points when the pace does pick up, the melodies gain energy, and the vocals take on some urgency—some of these are album highlights. The band play each style well, and while mileage may vary on the vocals, they suit the style very well. Besides, the record devotes plenty of space to instrumentation, which dominates. Weaker moments tend to be when the music seems to straddle the psychedelic wandering and spaced-out hypnotism, resulting in a rather anodyne mixture of each. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if compositions allowed for a smoother flow between all varying moods. As it is, there’s an uncharacteristic jerkiness to some of the transitions, and the material isn’t quite strong enough to compensate.

There is plenty on Ways of Avicenna that feels slick and very enjoyable. The album does open incredibly strongly with “Madrassa,” which builds from sultry atmosphere to an easygoing tempo, sky-piercing solo, and defiantly-delivered vocals. While the energy from this track is not sustained, many excellent elements are echoed throughout the remaining runtime. Warped, psychedelic guitar claims center-stage frequently for gorgeous, sugary refrains (“Reach for the Sun,” “Mystical Appeal”). Group (or perhaps layered) vocals cry out with emphatic plaintiveness (“Madrassa,” “Reach for the Sun,” “Forsaken Land”). Hypnotic, chunky grooves induce head bobs and sways (“Thunderstorm,” “Mystical Appeal”). The melodies are really what carry the music, and when they’re strong, they’re very strong. They can be outright beautiful—that rising out of “Madrassa,” and those warbling and dancing across “Reach for the Sun”. And when the band turn up the atmosphere—usually in intros (“Mystical Appeal,” “Forsaken Land”), but guiding much of “Reach for the Sun”—these melodies shimmer.

The album’s key issue is its inconsistency. Sometimes, the melodies come across as washed-out, or meandering. Yes, the classical plucking (“Disgrace”) and stoner rock riffing (“Thunderstorm, “Forsaken Land”) are pleasant, but they aren’t memorable, and they pale in comparison to those shinier examples. “Madrassa” and “Reach for the Sun” stand head and shoulders above all other tracks for their passionate and powerful melodies and vocals. But even the latter suffers a little from the odd unevenness that plagues most other songs. Sudden changes in cadence, melody, and style—from floaty psychedelia to rougher rock (“Mystical Appeal,” “Forsaken Land”) feel jarring in the context of such generally laid-back music. “Thunderstorm” manages this well by feeling genuinely progressive, and smooth, but aside from its cool pinch-harmonic, squealy solo, is also one of the duller tracks, paradoxically, given how often its tempo changes. Yet all gripes aside, one can’t deny that everything sounds great. It is beautifully, clearly produced, with a refreshingly spacious DR of 12—which is all the more impressive given that this is self-released. This, and its concise runtime, allows one to look past many of these flaws.

It is tempting to focus on the high points and gloss over the weaker material as ‘fine’ or ‘worth it’ in order to reach those highlights. When I hear the syrupy refrains and smooth grooves arise, I feel hope and excitement for Pelegrin’s future. Taken as a single piece, however, Ways of Avicenna is missing that effortless flow it would need to rise out of misty obscurity.

Rating: Mixed
DR: 12 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self Released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: February 17th, 2023

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