“Here we go down that same old road again, sympathy unfolds the shell that holds, all beauty within” – lyrics from “Same Ol’ Road” by dredg
One of the things that I will be regularly writing about on this site is retrospective looks at records that had an influence on me or that I truly enjoyed. Today’s article is taking a look back at a record that helped to shape my concepts of what music is and what it could be. It introduced me to a new side of music that I don’t really think I new existed until then. The record I’m referring to is the 2002 release from dredg, “el cielo”.
I have often described this record to people that have never heard it before as “poetry in motion.” I’m not even sure that those words accurately do it justice. You simply have to experience it to truly grasp what a beautiful record this is. I recommend blocking out some time where there are no distractions, finding the best set of headphones you can, and closing your eyes while you let dredg take you on a journey.
The record opens with a track titled “Brushstroke: DCBTFOABAAPOSBA”. It’s the sound of an artist’s brush against canvas. The beginning washes of color as the artist begins his masterpiece. The letters in the track’s title actually refer to the name of a painting by the late Salvador Dali, Dream Caused By The Flight Of A Bee Around A Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening. You can see the painting for yourself here. The entire record is inspired by this painting and built around concepts of sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming, and the five stages of change. If you’d like to learn more about these concepts, I highly recommend checking out traversingboard.com. They have a very in-depth article touching on the heady concepts in this record.
The first brushstrokes give way to the first full musical piece on the record, “Same Ol’ Road”. Right away we are introduced to dredg’s extremely talented rhythm section of drummer Dino Campanella and bassist Drew Roulette. In fact, Dino’s drums and Drew’s bass really carry this opening track for the most part. We also get a hint of Mark Engles guitar work as the track starts to unfold. This is followed by the voice of singer Gavin Hayes.
Musically, this is very much a progressive rock record. It is unabashedly artsy and heady. It seems that the band draws its musical influences from a variety of different types of music. At times they go from atmospheric (“Sorry But It’s Over”) to a taste of anthemic (“Sanzen”). At times they show a bit of a jazz influence (“Whoa Is Me”) then they hit you with something that seems very reminiscent of middle-eastern music (“Brushstroke: An Elephant In The Delta Waves”).
Lyrically, the record is beautifully haunting and often emotional. As previously mentioned, the album is influenced by concepts dealing with sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming, and the five stages of change. It is hard not to find yourself moved by the poetic lyrics in songs like “Same Ol’ Road”, “Sorry But It’s Over”, “Scissor Lock”, “Whoa Is Me”, and “The Canyon Behind Her”.
The album is broken up by several interludes called “Brushstrokes”. These interludes are every bit as enjoyable as the full songs that come before and after them. Each one is unique and sets itself apart from the others. “Brushstroke: New Heart Shadow” brings a sort of jazzy vibe. “Brushstroke: Walk In The Park” is a beautiful piano and strings piece. It is one of my favorite tracks on the record. “Brushstroke: Reprise” takes us back briefly down that “same old road again.” “Brushstroke: An Elephant In The Delta Waves” has a middle-eastern influence with a beautiful female vocal performance over the top.
“This drought is leaving me with cracked soil and brown leaves, floating on a dry lake bed with a dry mouth and a foggy head, waiting for the snow, when the water comes I will overflow, I will overflow.” – lyrics from “Whoa Is Me” by dredg
Gavin Hayes’ vocal performance is top notch. His performance ranges from haunting on tracks like “Same Ol’ Road” and “Scissor Lock” to soaring on tracks like “Convalescent”, “Of The Room”, “Whoa Is Me”, and “The Canyon Behind Her”. He is terrific at painting a picture with words. His ability to turn a phrase almost has a magical quality to it. Songs like “Triangle”, “18 People Live In Harmony”, “Scissor Lock”, “Of The Room”, “Whoa Is Me”, and “The Canyon Behind Her” all show off his talent as a lyricist and story teller.
I also have to say that Dino Campanella might be one of the most talented drummers in all of music. His work on this record is simply outstanding. If you want to hear a master at his craft, really pay attention to his drum work on tracks like “Triangle”, “Of The Room” and “The Canyon Behind Her”. The whole record is full of fantastic musicianship but I really feel like those three tracks are standouts in the drumming category. On top of his duties as drummer, he also plays the piano on several tracks. It’s really quite amazing watching him do both in live performances and makes you appreciate his playing all the more.
The guitar work of Mark Engles kind of reminds me of The Edge from U2. It is minimalistic and atmospheric when it needs to be and massive and heavy when called for. It’s an interesting and ultimately successful dichotomy. You hear it throughout the entire record but there are a couple of standouts that I would point you towards. The first one is the incredible “Of The Room”. Mark’s guitar work through the verses is against quite minimalistic and atmospheric but then it kicks you in the teeth when the chorus comes. It’s a phenomenal song. Mark’s guitars on “The Canyon Behind Her” also rock hard. The song itself is just brimming with emotion and between Dino’s piano and drum work and Mark’s guitars the song just explodes.
Not to leave bass guitarist Drew Roulette out of the love fest. One of the things I greatly admire this record for is for being willing to give some love in the mix to Drew’s bass work. So many records from the era don’t give any love in the mix to the bass. Either that or it is drowned out by the low end of the guitars. Drew and Dino, in my opinion, are one of the most talented and under appreciated rhythm sections in all of music. Listen to Drew’s fantastic bass work on songs like “Same Ol’ Road”, “Sanzen”, “Triangle”, “Convalescent”, “Scissor Lock”, “Whoa Is Me”, and “The Canyon Behind Her”. Drew’s bass work is the perfect compliment to Mark’s atmospheric guitars on every one of those tracks.
“Faceless crowd of elderly beings, roses sprouting yellow glow, subconscious into the light, night falls beneath candle light, white squalls beneath winter skies.” – lyrics from “Of The Room” by dredg
It truly is hard to articulate in words how this record makes me feel still today, 16 years later. Every time I listen to it, I fall in love with it all over again. There is a simple yet complex beauty to the work as a whole. Some of the songs stand out on their own, sure, but they hold up so much better when they are looked at as a whole. It’s an intense emotional and artistic journey. It’s one that is worth every second of the nearly 60 minute run time. It makes you want to keep coming back for more.
“el cielo” is a remarkable achievement of music by masters of the art. The album carries you through breathtaking highs and lows all throughout. It takes you in from it’s opening brushstroke and sends you on a haunting journey before finally reaching it’s powerful crescendo in the climactic moments of the album’s final track “The Canyon Behind Her”.
Check out the record and support the artist by clicking on the links below or visit your favorite local record shop (We make no kickbacks on this, just offering a quick way to find the record):
Written by Mike Ficklin (vaderSW1)