Released by AltrOck in 2013, the debut disc by this Sicilian band (based in Palermo, Italy) is seemingly designed for those enamored by the unpredictable twists and turns of prog rock but who recoil from the genre's most bombastic side. Make no mistake, Homunculus Res' Limiti All'eguaglianza della Parte con il Tutto (which roughly translates as Limits of Equality of the Parts to the Whole, a title some might regard as bombastic in itself) has plenty of proggy synth and electric keyboards, complex arrangements, and compositional left turns, but with an engaging dose of pop tunefulness and an oftentimes lighthearted attitude. Homunculus Res are reportedly inspired by the Canterbury scene, the subgenre of '60s and '70s British prog rock associated with Soft Machine and Caravan, as well as Picchio dal Pozzo, an Italian band formed in the mid-'70s that took its own spin on Canterbury in a decidedly avant-prog direction. (AltrOck also released the Picchio dal Pozzo/Yugen album A_Live in 2010.) The earliest albums by the aforementioned Softs and Caravan during the late '60s were psychedelic pop affairs with generally short tunes and instrumental interludes rather than proggy mega-opuses, and with 18 tracks generally in the two- to four-minute range, Homunculus Res take a page from the same book here. And back on the Italian side of psych-into-prog music, the band would seem more inspired by Le Orme's 1969 psych pop debut LP Ad Gloriam than by the ELP-informed ostentatious prog that came later.
Guitarist, vocalist, and principal composer Dario D'Alessandro can sing forcefully if the song calls for it but is understated with tuneful and breezy harmonies more often than not. Subtle distortion is applied to his lead voice on the midtempo waltzing "Jessicalaura" before the track takes off on a soaring Caravan-esque instrumental break, "Preparazione Bomba H" (Preparation H Bomb, ha ha) is filled with singsongy "ba ba ba" and "wah wah wah" choruses, and the gentle "La Ballata Dell'amore Stocastico" segues into a wordless vocal conclusion strongly suggesting Robert Wyatt backed by David Sinclair on organ. Nevertheless, with multiple keyboardists (including guest Paolo "Ske" Botta from Yugen) and a bassist, drummer, and flutist, there is plenty of instrumental prog on the album, both as stand-alone tracks (the Caravan-meets-Tull highlight "Rifondazione Unghie"; the dreamy yet driving "Il Papa Buono") and during the conclusions of songs that begin with vocals (the ever-changing, multifaceted opener "Culturismo Ballo Organizzare," nearly all instrumental save for its brief exhortative intro chorus; the relaxed cruising space jazz second half of "DJ Psicosi," with guest Totò Puleo's echoed trumpet settling into the swirl of sound). But despite the obvious talents of the bandmembers as individual instrumentalists, Limiti All'eguaglianza della Parte con il Tutto is not stuffed with solo turns, and Marco Monterosso (engineer) and Andrea Rizzardo (mixing/mastering) deserve plaudits for emphasizing an overall unified group sound that brings elements of early prog into the 21st century with a refreshing lack of pretension. ~ Dave Lynch