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Proud Peasant — Communion
(Basement Avatar Records BAR011, 2023, CD / DL)

Communion Cover art

It has been a long nine years since Proud Peasant’s debut release Flight, even though band leader Xander Rapstine has been carefully planning and crafting each of the six songs on their second album, Communion, since then. Xander’s meticulous attention to detail is quite obvious. Learning from Mike Oldfield, Xander is a master of taking a simple riff and breathing life into it by adding and subtracting instruments, transposing it up and down, and changing tempo to keep the listener engaged throughout. So masterful is he is that you don’t even realize what is going on musically unless you give Communion your full attention. I first noticed his skill on Flight and now he has taken it to the next level on the second album of his trilogy. So much so that even Oldfield could learn something new from Proud Peasant. Adding to Proud Peasant’s sound, not only does Communion contain these ingenious instrumental tracks, there are several songs as well. And something that would truly enhance the total package would be the lyrics for these songs. Peppered throughout the album are influences from one of Xander’s favorite bands, King Crimson. In fact, Proud Peasant’s opus and closing track “The Fall” is an extremely creative merging of Frippian and Oldfieldian influences that morphs into symphonic progressive rock with Xander’s strong and lyrical guitar solo, and ultimately the appearance of Brook Brockman’s exquisite vocals. And the track is only half over at this point! Then Xander throws in some short references to Flight, increasing tempo, and the track ends with some sonic revving to conclude another outstanding album. Prog music is definitely alive and well in Austin, Texas.

by Henry Schneider, Published 2024-04-21

The second full-length studio album from Proud Peasant sees the band honing their style and expanding their sound. Leader and composer Xander Rapstine plays a wide variety of instruments, including guitars, keyboards, ukulele, mandolin, vibraphone, and more, as well as singing — yes, singing. The other band members are David Hobizal (drums), David Houghton (guitar, backing vocals), Millicent Hughes (keyboards, backing vocals), Mark Poitras (keyboards, vibes, percussion), and Clif Warren (bass); I count 20 other musicians who contribute woodwinds, brass, vocals, and more on the album’s six tracks, most of them on a single track only. Full of complex structures and elaborate orchestrations, Communion is clearly progressive rock, though it is much to the credit of Rapstine and company that it sounds like no other band. The inclusion of vocals may surprise those who’ve grown used to Proud Peasant as a purely instrumental concern, but the overall feel of the music hasn’t changed. All the tracks but one are listed as having multiple parts with such names as “The Schism I (The Perfidious),” “March of the Ouroboroi,” “Canticle of the Risen,” “The Descent II (The Maelström),” and “Apocatastasis,” but the music is not at all what I would call pretentious, unless the simple presence of bassoon, oboe, and French horn signals pretense. The recurrence of section names like “The Schism” in multiple tracks speaks to the album’s thematic unity, and the liner notes speak of learning to communicate and the often difficult proposition of maintaining relationships. One of the standouts is “A Web of Shadow,” which starts with a lovely jig-like section for acoustic instruments led by mandolin. A brief vocal section that reminds me of a quiet early King Crimson tune then develops into a punchy rock song with overdriven guitars. Proud Peasant’s Communion is a wonderful example of ambitious musicians having the requisite abilities to realize their big ideas and pull listeners into a lushly imagined world.

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-12-01

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): Proud Peasant

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