Under Construction


The Gabriel Construct: Interior City (Gabriel Riccio)

Although my older brother likes some of Genesis' music, he does have one main bugaboo about them: that their songs are often "aimless," simply going from one section to another, seemingly at random. I disagree, of course: while it is true that many of their compositions have multiple sections, often introducing different musical motifs, most of those compositions follow the exposition-development-recapitulation form of some classical music, and almost always return to and resolve at least the initial motif, if not others.

However, given my older brother's feelings, I can assume that he would not like The Gabriel Construct (though I do -- with some reservations), the debut solo project from Gabriel Lucas Riccio.

In most of the ten compositions on Interior City -- particularly the lengthier ones -- Mr. Riccio actually does what my brother suggests about Genesis: haphazardly string unrelated sections of music together, only once or twice returning to and/or resolving either the initial theme or added ones. This is not to say that there isn't creativity here; there is. In fact, occasional sections show serious potential -- even flashes of brilliance.

However, this leads to my second construct-ive criticism of the album: there is a sameness to much of it, and not just stylistically. Fast sections all tend to be heavy, and follow a similar pattern throughout the album: harmony lead vocals (interesting the first time, perhaps even the second, but tediously overused by the third or fourth -- particularly since they are often used throughout entire songs), and noisy production, often including speed-metal double bass drumming. (Indeed, one influence here that Mr. Riccio does not mention is Dream Theater, particularly in "Fear of Humanity.") Slower sections all tend to be soft, mostly piano-based, with single-voice vocals.

Indeed, Mr. Riccio seems to think that very loud and very soft are the only dynamics available, and that sudden changes between the two are the only way to get there: i.e., there are very few gradations of dynamics, and even fewer natural segues between the two. It may be that Mr. Riccio believes that this adds tension to his compositions. True, a sudden change from loud to soft can certainly create tension. But it must make sense within the context of the song, and fails to create tension if it is overused.

This leads to yet another quibble: some of his choices seem…wrong. [N.B. I promise I am not trying to tell Mr. Riccio how to write his songs.] By this I mean mostly the way he matches music to lyrics, and particularly the way he phrases lyrics within the music, which can be at best odd and at worst jarring. Another choice that seems glaring to me is that he often fails to use what he has: i.e., some of the heavier jams could really use a guitar, keyboard or violin solo, and some of the softer, piano-supported sections just scream for a flute, sax or violin solo. Indeed, of all the issues brought up so far, Mr. Riccio's choices (in all the regards noted here) is the one that bothered me most overall.

Mr. Riccio cites a number of influences, including Devin Townsend, Mars Volta, Periphery, Ulver, Porcupine Tree and Oliver Messiaen. I hear very little of either Mars Volta or Porcupine Tree (two groups with whom I am intimately familiar). Re: Messiaen, I assume Mr. Riccio is invoking him with regard to the few "soundscape" elements of the album, including the opening track ("Arrival in a Distant Land") and "Languishing in Lower Chakras" (the only instrumental track on the album). However, the former reminds me more of Eno's Ambient approach, and the latter has various shadings of Eno, Vangelis, Ligeti, and even The Beatles (think "Revolution 9").

Mr. Riccio's musical approach is much closer to Townsend, Periphery (his drummer and bassist are both ex-Periphery), and Ulver. (Another possible influence is Tool.) However, Mr. Riccio seems to miss an important difference between his music and theirs: even within the heavy (sometimes thrash) metal sound that he and they all use, all of them are more melodic than he tends to be, and only use harmony lead vocals sparingly, if at all.

The overall production on the album is pretty good, but I have some issues with the mix: it seems a bit "muddy" (i.e., lack of separation), and except for the piano (in the soft parts) and drums, the other instruments tend to get overpowered by the vocals and the "noise" (apparently an actual element of the music, given that Mr. Riccio's contributions are listed as "keyboards, vocals, noise"). In this regard, it is hard to say much about the musicianship, though from what I could hear, it is excellent throughout.

With respect to the vocals, Mr. Riccio has a listenable and expressive enough voice, but I sense that he is not the best person to be carrying his own songs. I would suggest that he find a vocalist he likes, and also let that vocalist sing at least some of the parts without the harmony lead.

Mr. Riccio's lyrics tend toward the esoteric (often with a psychological bent; much of the album seems to deal with the loss of "self" in the larger society), and are generally pretty good. This is decidedly a strength (particularly with progressive rock), and it will be nice to see how he develops in this area.

Although this review is more critical than others I have written, Interior City is definitely worth a listen. Indeed, it grew on me the second time, and I'm guessing it will continue to grow on me. As noted, there is a great deal of creativity going on here, and it is always encouraging to find writers and musicians willing to tackle progressive rock. I should also add that Mr. Riccio is able to write "solid" progressive rock compositions of under five minutes. (In fact, one of the most complex is under three minutes!)

Finally, I want to say a word about "Languishing in Lower Chakras," which I feel is not only the best composition on the album, but really had me sitting forward. Although he may still be finding his footing with vocal/band-based progressive rock, Mr. Riccio has a much firmer grasp with respect to soundscapes. "Languishing" is among the best I've heard in quite some time -- it is clear that a lot of thought, compositional knowledge, and time went into it -- and while I certainly urge Mr. Riccio to continue developing his progressive rock writing, I also urge him to look toward "Languishing" as a jumping-off point for more compositions of this type. Indeed, based on the quality of "Languishing" (and, to only a slightly lesser extent, "Arrival in a Distant Land"), he might consider an entire album of soundscapes, allowing him to fully straddle both the progressive rock world of Periphery, Tool and Dream Theater, and the soundscape world of Eno, Vangelis and Messiaen.