Exposé Online banner

Thinking Plague — Hoping against Hope
(Cuneiform Rune 421, 2017, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2017-04-07

Hoping against Hope Cover art

I’m not going to complain about the years between Thinking Plague albums. The gap between In Extremis and A History of Madness was only five years, by far the shortest interval between studio releases. But honestly the music is complex enough that it takes that long just to write out all the parts! I’m joking, of course, but complexity is one of the defining qualities of composer Mike Johnson’s work, and the main reason Thinking Plague is a barometer of listeners’ tastes. Anyone who dislikes Thinking Plague is likely to have a low tolerance for any music that doesn’t rely on hummable melodies, predictable rhythms, and standard song forms. But for those of us who love the challenge of pieces that don’t conform to such strictures, that cleave more to Stravinsky than Beethoven, that surprise at every turn… for us, this band holds a special place. Art is not a contest, and it’s perfectly acceptable to like both Thinking Plague and Pink Floyd, so for those of us who enjoyed the previous Plague offerings, it is time to rejoice — the cicada has emerged to sing for us. And for those who have never heard this band, be prepared to experience something new. The music is highly polyphonic, with the voice (the amazing Elaine Di Falco), the two guitars (Johnson and Bill Pohl), woodwinds (Mark Harris), bass (Dave Willey), and even the drums (Robin Chestnut) all going in different directions, though tightly coordinated to fit together. It’s one of the most completely realized examples of Chamber Rock — resembling 20th Century avant-garde compositions orchestrated for electric instruments. There are so many choice moments on Hoping Against Hope that I could go on for paragraphs, but I’ll just mention a few. “The Echoes of Their Cries” is pretty amazing from start to finish, with a relatively simple rhythmic motif in a six-beat pattern that underlies much of the piece, though the way it gets broken up and reinterpreted as the track progresses is intriguing. The bass will take up part of it, the guitars will divide other bits between them, and piano, accordion, and sax will chip in, while the vocal part fits an acrobatic melody out front. By the end, the drums have notched up the intensity of the rhythm in a very satisfying way. Another particularly lovely spot is towards the end of “A Dirge for the Unwitting” where Harris gets to contribute flute, clarinet, and soprano sax parts. One recurring technique I really like is that during slower moving sections, the chords are broken up between instruments, so that three notes are played by (for example) two acoustic guitars and the piano, each sounding a single note at a different time, to build up a constantly shifting harmonic background. As I said, I could go on for hours. Suffice it to say that this is every bit as good as the other Plague albums, and one of the year’s real gems.


Filed under: New releases, 2017 releases

Related artist(s): Elaine Di Falco, Dave Willey, Thinking Plague, Bill Pohl

Latest news

2017-07-27
Yestival Dates Beef up the Beat – Word reaches us that Dylan Howe (son of guitarist Steve Howe) will be joining Yes on their "Yestival" tour, drumming alongside longtime band member Alan White. » Read more

2017-05-19
First ProgStock Festival Set for October – October 2017 will see the inaugural edition of a festival called ProgStock in Rahway, New Jersey at the Union County Performing Arts Center. With a definite slant towards neo-progressive music, the event is sure to please many fans with the inclusion of such artists as Echolyn, Glass Hammer, and Aisles. The festival will take place October 13-15. » Read more

2017-05-05
Clive Brooks RIP – Word reaches us today of another sad passing in the music world. Drummer Clive Brooks, best known as a member of such Canterbury bands as Egg, Uriel / Arzachel, and Groundhogs, has died at the age of 67. Details are sketchy at this point. The news was reported on Nick Mason's Facebook page — Brooks was Mason's drum tech. » Read more

2017-05-02
Col. Bruce Hampton RIP – The phrase "He died doing what he loved" is almost a cliche, but in the case of Col. Bruce Hampton, it couldn't be more true. Hampton, who was born Gustav Berglund III, collapsed on stage at his own 70th birthday celebration and later passed away. The event took place at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. » Read more

2017-04-16
ProgDay 2017 Announces First Bands – Flor de Loto, Sonar, and Infinien are the first three performers to be announced for the 2017 edition of the long-running ProgDay Festival. The 23rd ProgDay takes place Saturday and Sunday, September 2nd and 3rd, at Storybook Farm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

David Garland - Control Songs – David Garland is one of a rather small group of experimental singer/song writers. They are not cut from same bolt of cloth as, say, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell or James Taylor. Instead, Garland, along...  (1999) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues