Fans of hyper-complicated multi-instrumental avant-leaning prog rock (and in 2006, the year of this album's release, surely such fans must have numbered in the millions if not billions, yes?) will want to snap up Labirinto d'Acqua rapidamente. Simply put, Yugen, a bunch of adventurous and clearly talented Italians, can apparently do anything and everything necessary to warm an avant-prog lover's heart, and maybe even occasionally turn the heads of those who lean toward modern composition or contemporary chamber music. Every electronic and acoustic instrument imaginable is present here -- keyboards, guitars, bass, and drums along with vibes, marimba, glockenspiel, clarinet, saxophones, violin, shakuhachi, taragot, and even theremin -- and 14 musicians are heard in various combinations on tracks ranging from brief interludes of roughly a minute each to the nine-plus-minute multi-part opus "Quando la Morte Mi Colse Nel Sonno." Guitarist/composer Francesco Zago is a driving force behind Yugen, although his guitar doesn't necessarily take a dominant instrumental role, and in fact, despite the diverse instrumentation, prog rock's time-tested electronic keyboard orientation seems to be present throughout much of Labirinto d'Acqua. The skills (and software) of Israeli mixmaster Udi Koomran (Ahvak, Present, 5uu's) also contribute to the ultra-crisp sonic palette.
The overall result is a dizzying display of constantly permuting densely packed music that seems like an unholy hybrid of Unrest-period Henry Cow, Zappa-esque tuned percussion, in-your-face Tarkus-era ELP bombast, some Clearlight-styled psych-choral space exploration, the occasional moment of acoustic chamber music ("Omelette Norvegese"), and even what sounds like a drunken brass band fanfare parody played weakly by a couple horns and a fist-pummeled harpsichord ("Danse Cuirassée"). The heart of the album is perhaps best displayed by "Catacresi," "Corale Metallurgico," and "Le Rovine Circolari," three pieces in the six- to seven-plus-minute range that tumble out of the speakers with the sometimes aggressive complexity of modern chamber symphonies on steroids. In relation to these three numbers, the aforementioned "Quando la Morte Mi Colse Nel Sonno" is a comparatively straightforward prog epic with a memorable quavering theme played (one presumes) on the theremin over a rockin' beat and distorted guitar power chords, bookending the diverse musical episodes jammed within. The release of a CD by musicians this accomplished is cause for something approaching glee (and that's not a reference to the high-school musical TV show) during an era that, at least under the loosely defined category of "rock," celebrates amateurism and the ability of any random individual to become a "star" on the basis of "votes" by millions of nincompoops. ~ Dave Lynch