After the release of Diagonal’s self-titled album in 2008, a quite good record although it leaned heavily on prog and hard rock from the 1970s, Alex Crispin pursued something more akin to art rock in Baron. Diagonal went on to make one more album without Alex (and without bass player Dan Pomlett), ‘The Second Mechanism’, before going into hibernation.
Now, seven years later, the Alex and Dan are back and Diagonal have released the excellent ‘Arc’. In fact, it is their best record ever in any constellation including Baron.
And before we let Baron off the radar, this album more than anything picks up where that group left of with ’Torpor’. Furthermore, it does so by honing in on the ambition to combine the seemingly incompatible elements of Van der Graaf Generator and Talk Talk. And in their best moments, on ‘Arc’ they manage to create a strange but beautiful geometry out of it.
To that, Diagonal add a newfound funky yet deadpan pop touch, most prominently on opener ’9-Green’.
Simultaneously they have scaled back on the less interesting post-rock influences that Baron had, while cleaning up on the distortion and opening up the sound to be wider.
One instrument that adds a of texture is Nicholas Whittaker’s saxophone, and I particularly like how he allows interplay with the various organ sounds to conjure up a quite 70s atmosphere; something that in turn is allowed to contrast wonderfully with some of the more Talk Talk influenced moods.
Although the album works nicely as a whole and I honestly have had it on repeat since it was released, I would easily pick ‘Citadel’ as the highlight. Granted, it is probably the most traditionally proggy track here, but I just love every aspect of it; from the stark vocals in the beginning, to the superb 60s sounding organs in the middle and the sax that gradually takes over towards the end.
Then, when you start wondering if the Talk Talk influences were nothing more than fictions of you aural imagination, the music comes to a long halt on penultimate track ‘The Vital’ and the rockier energy that was in the air is replaced by something much more ethereal and fragile. I am not sure what the title actually refers to, but as a statement that Diagonal is reaching beyond most other bands in the current prog revival, it certainly states its intention as clear as could be.
And although the album is available on most streaming services as well as being distributed physically by Svart Records in Finland (yes that may sound odd, but Svart also released ‘Torpor’ back in 2015), this really is an album you must buy on Bandcamp.
I am not saying that because Bandcamp is the best music distribution platform on the planet – which I do think it is – but because you will get a full-blown 24 bit 96 kHz audiophile grade download thrown in for free. Or, you can just get that audiophile download for only £3. Heck, that is what they charge for the cup of burnt coffee on the Stockholm-bound train I am sitting on while typing this! Avoid that coffee and get the album download instead!