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Cymbalic Encounters — Electricus
(Bandcamp no#, 2023, DL)

Cymbalic Encounters — Incandescent Spirits
(Bandcamp no#, 2023, DL)

Cymbalic Encounters — Eclipsis
(Bandcamp no#, 2024, DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2024-05-19

Electricus Cover artIncandescent Spirits Cover artEclipsis Cover art

Now that Brand X is no longer a going concern, fans of their unique style can take some comfort in the music of Mark Murdock’s Cymbalic Encounters. After releasing two albums in 2022 (Cerulean Cathedral and Overexposure), they came out with two in 2023 (Electicus and Incandescent Spirits), and then two more (so far) in 2024 (Eclipsis and Afrika Mandalika). I don’t know how long they can keep up with this level of activity — Murdock released a solo album in 2023 as well — but I’m thinking that slowing down might be healthy at this point. On the five albums I’ve heard to this point, there is little change, in spite of the varying personnel. Virtually every track sounds almost exactly like a Brand X tune from the late 70s. Most people familiar with Brand X will chime in, “That’s after their best work,” and I will reply, “I chose the comparison deliberately.” Cymbalic Encounters very successfully emulates the style of Is There Anything About?, without touching on the power and wonderful strangeness of Unorthodox Behaviour or Moroccan Roll. Busy fretless bass features prominently in the arrangements, the keyboards are full of extended chords, and the guitar solos are nimble without being too shreddy. But in the midst of this emulation, something is lost. The compositions for the most part are decent, and I don’t doubt that the players could pull off spirited versions of them live. The studio recordings, however, come off as overly polite and polished. Murdock is a good drummer, and maybe it’s because he’s overdubbing the parts (he handles most of the keyboards as well) that the energy level is lacking. Some of the albums suffer additionally from the absence of a bass player, with Murdock playing the “fretless” on a synthesizer. The contributing guitarists are Joe Berger, Dave Juteau, Preston Murdock, David Rambeau, Fernando Perdomo, and Daniel Kubota; Charles Lambaste plays bass on a few tracks for each album, and Dave Sturt does a couple on Eclipsis; and Tim Pepper provides lead vocals on several tunes per album. The liner notes claim that Incandescent Spirits is a reflection of the more experimental side of the band, but I don’t hear any real difference from the other albums. In all cases, the production is very clean, perhaps too much so, as the music lacks any edge. The notes are all there, but the spirit (incandescent or otherwise) is absent. I would much rather hear one solid album a year than two unremarkable ones, especially if they’re able to capture more of the energy of live playing.

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases, 2024 releases

Related artist(s): Mark Murdock / Cymbalic Encounters

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