Welcome to Psych 102! Today we discuss the phenomenon of semantic saturation, or satiation. Ever hear a word so often it just becomes a sound and loses all meaning? Let’s try it here! Read this out loud, focusing on the sound of the word: juxtapose. Juxtapose. Juxtapose. Juxtapose. Juxtapose. Are you feeling it yet? Syrian/Canadian guitarist Shant Hagopian was, and he was feeling it with music rather than words. Developing an acute allergy to repetition, he decided to create a band with a focus on variety, resulting in the instrumental band Semantic Saturation. Then, a few years later, he took it to the next level by replacing all the band members for the second album Paradigms. At least he’s consistent with his theme.
There is one common thread across the album: Hagopian was trained as a jazz guitarist, and it shows. Though his aim towards varied music is a generally successful one, borrowing from progressive rock and metal as well as blues and post-rock on occasion, the undercurrent is always jazz-fusion. The resulting amalgam is a more restrained and coherent cousin to Liquid Tension Experiment. But while LTE often seemed bent on cramming as much show-offiness (vocabulary patent pending) into an album as humanly possible, Hagopian has a clear vision toward tracks with an internal consistency, keeping the music dynamic without becoming random for the hell of it.
That’s not to say there is no show-offiness (it’s gonna catch on, I swear) to be found on Paradigms. I don’t think such a thing is possible on an instrumental album fronted by a jazz guitarist. But with such diversity as the choppy Steve Vai electro-experiments of “The Stranger from Andromeda,” the sultry jazz-blues of “Empty Whiskey Jar,” and the various bendy Joe Satriani solos strewn across the album, there’s no help but admiring the skill on the six-string. What’s more, the album sounds crystal clear, with drums as natural as though you were in the room with them and a smoothly thrumming bass of which every note rings true. Thankfully, neither is at any point entirely outshone by the guitar, in spite of its clear protagonist role. The solid production and sensible compositions result in an album that feels whole, not like a competition between its performers. Not every instrumental record can lay claim to such an achievement.
As much as I enjoy the album, I miss the real peaks, the moments to get well and truly excited about. There’s not one single reason for this restraint on my enthusiasm. Perhaps it is a result of the angle of variety, the compositions spreading themselves too thin to be honed to their very maximum. Maybe it’s the lack of a tension arc within the compositions, lacking any real sense of climax. I might simply be less receptive to instrumental albums. Whatever the case, it certainly doesn’t break Paradigms. The gamut of styles it employs ensures that boredom never has much chance to set in, making the record if not a masterpiece, then at least a joy to listen to from start to finish.
A good album, even an instrumental one, depends on more than a versatile and talented guitar player. Hagopian seems to understand this, and he gets to shine as much as can be reasonably expected as the lead guitarist without vocals to compete with. Paradigms is chock full of excellent, inventive compositions, with a healthy range of genres infusing the album with their particular flavors. Though short in real climaxes, I never felt averse to spinning the record just one more time. Completed by a lush production, Semantic Saturation proves itself a capable project, and skillfully avoids the yawning pits of show-offiness (third time’s the charm.)
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Websites: semanticsaturation.bandcamp.com | semanticsaturation.com | facebook.com/semanticsaturation
Releases Worldwide: August 20th, 2018