Progressive rock at its best: avant-garde, chaotic and yet tensely atmospheric. X, the most recent album from Dutch art-rock supremos Focus, has a song for every occasion. From flute jazz-metal to organ ballad, the latest installment in their musical chronology is a masterpiece of cinematic soundscapes.
As is common in this fascinating genre of music, the album begins with a track that showcases the catalogue of rhythm and melody that Focus are capable of. From pulsing guitar-riff driven passages to jazzy breakdowns that introduce the flute , ‘Father Bachus’ is a proper introduction to this prolific band and demonstrates this band’s expansive repertoire of instruments.
The jazz influences are rife. Tracks such as ‘Amok in Kindergarten’ and ‘X Roads’ provide a slightly slower yet more intricate dose of chaotic melody. Listening to these tracks gives one the impression of being in a silent film from the early 20th century, simply by the sheer variety of moods and shifts of atmosphere. The vocals on the latter track acting to amp up this cinematic feel, its skiffle rhythm beautifully conducted by drumming hero Pierre Van Der Linden.
Frontman Thijs Van Leer typifies the pure musicality of Focus, swapping between keys and flute at will. The highlight of the album is his vocal contribution on ‘Le Tango’, a minimalist hispanic-styled track that manages to be so moody yet so uplifting, leaving listeners wishing for more vocals elsewhere on the album.
The track ‘Focus 10’ is one such track that is crying out for vocals. However, this does not detract praise from this track; it is a possible favourite amongst the album. With shades of the Dire Straits’ more jazzy passages, this song has a lovely eighties feel with an excellent piano-driven ballad rock core.
‘Hoeratio’, with a name that sounds like a mathematical method for differentiating ladies of loose undergarments, is one of the most familiar sounds on the album. Heavily reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Speak to me/Breathe’, this track combines the best of Focus’ melody and their dark, moody reverb.
If you are new to Focus, despite their 40 year history in the manufacture of such intriguing art, then this album is an excellent chance to experience their brand of masterful composition. It would be appropriate to say that Focus have successfully condensed what they are about into this album, and at just under an hour it is the best possible advert to dive into their archives, for new fans and old. Oh, and they’re not bad live either: