Recently, I was discussing with a friend of mine the irony of making sure our children don’t go down some of the more contentious routes we enjoyed traversing when we were younger. But the reality is that experimentation of any kind should be encouraged, especially so in musical form. Everybody wants to be there when those near and dear succeed, but we all have our own mistakes to make. Chicago legend Chris Black has liberated himself of labor and label and instead plunged headlong into an endeavor to facilitate all and any of his creative yearnings. Professor Black is the name and, apparently, whatever the fuck he wants is the game. As he is releasing, not one, but three albums simultaneously, it falls to me to quantify LVPVS, an instrumental project of progressive proportions. The call of the wild has never sounded so… unique?
LVPVS is a largely collaborative effort which, I am reliably informed, was pieced together over the duration of a decade. Cohorts Jussi Lehtisalo (Circle, Pharaoh Overlord) and Jason William Walton (Khôrada, ex-Agalloch) have added equally to the album, persevering to craft an uninhibitedly creative record, at least in theory. The energy of bands like High Spirits, Dawnbringer, Pharaoh, and Superchrist that comprise only a percentage of Black’s resume is all but absent here. Instead, a cyclical, often hypnotic characteristic pervades, with obscure time signatures and a propensity to twist and extend traditional tropes beyond their natural conclusions.
The album is composed of four lengthy cuts. Each one takes a typical rock rhythm and subverts it with a different musical mood. Opener “Habeas Corpus” is the most upbeat and rolls out an impending riff before moderately quickening its pace. Black’s drums and rhythm guitar eventually spiral into more unrestrained territory before eking out the last seconds of the song. By contrast, “Too Soon” takes the material’s krautrock influence and feeds it through a lilting dream-sequence of tempos, occasionally peppered with some of Black’s own tasteful soloing. Unfortunately, by the halfway point the album’s issues have become glaringly apparent. The songs are overtly progressive by design, yet in these moments where Black takes center-stage, I can almost hear his traditional songcraft trying to claw to the surface. His deft ear for hooks and riffing is so apparent in these small interludes that they feel more like excised portions of his usual fare crammed arbitrarily beside repetitious loops.
One of the most unavoidable and surely polarizing elements of LVPVS is Lehtisalo’s flood of questionable keys. While almost certainly a creative choice, their sound lies somewhere between the 80’s porn of Stranger Things and fucking Contra. They’re so willfully relied upon that they actually detract from the guitars and manifest as the songs’ main driving force. “Stations,” my personal favorite, drapes them in more sinister shading and allows them to accentuate some of the foreboding post-rock and doom-inspired riffing. But, as is the album’s core issue, the track’s long format combines with the record’s laborious nature and eventually wrings out any potential investment by simply buckling to boredom, despite the best efforts of Matt Johnsen’s electrifying lead work in the finale. By the time the end rolls around, my attention span is largely spent, which is a shame, as “Every Second” neatly concludes all the themes contained within the album. Sadly, it’s a definitive case of too little, too late.
Despite the album’s slightly stronger second half, LVPVS remains an incredibly frustrating listen. The record is so far removed from the general oeuvre of all those involved that it tantalizes the intriguing possibility of either excellence or nonsense. In true progressive fashion, it amounts to neither. There can be no denying, however, that LVPVS is a serious chore to sit through. This is down, almost uniquely, to a song structure designed to mesmerize but whose weft and warp are so sedated that it merely alienates. Everything, from the song’s uniform 11-minute 6-second runtime to the heavy-handed psychedelics, screams contrived. Fortunately, although LVPVS feels like a vanity piece, it isn’t remotely indicative of its creator’s work and exists exactly as it will likely be remembered: an anomalous bit of fun that somehow saw release. Ultimately, those who indulge in more notorious extracurricular activities might glean some enhanced enjoyment from the unremarkable affair. But, those like me may yet indulge ourselves, as Professor Black‘s teachings remind us that LVPVS is but one of three…