Remember how I said that I was craving something different recently? Nordic Giants satisfied part of that, and when I saw Major Parkinson’s new album “Blackbox” appear in my inbox, I knew they would be the other part of what I needed. Outside the box in almost every way imaginable, Major Parkinson has crafted another stellar album for those who crave unique and strange music. It releases October 27th.
Major Parkinson is one of those bands that you either love or you despise. Their sound is macabre, haunting, and a little flamboyant at times. They simultaneously take themselves very seriously and also not at all. It’s a sound that I love, though. The band features Jon Ivar Kollbotn on lead vocals, Eivind Gammersvik on bass, Lars Christian Bjørknes on keys and programming, Sondre Sagstad Veland: drums and typewriter, Sondre Rafoss Skollevoll and Øystein Bech-Eriksen on guitars, and Claudia Cox on violin and backing vox. There is a plethora of guests here, too, playing the tuba, saxophone, trombone, trumpet, xylophone, French horn, and cello.
The band seems to have officially embraced the progressive rock label. Last time with “Twilight Cinema”, the band did not list prog on their Facebook page, but I see it there now. Honestly, their sound is about as unique and ambitious as you are likely to find nowadays.
Major Parkinson’s musical style is definitely difficult to describe. The music they play has heavy elements of dark European folk music, prog rock, theatre, and some cinematic elements. Everything from the guitars to the keys to the horns are all loaded with an almost Transylvanian style, playful and yet dark, too. This time around they seem to incorporate more electronic sounds into the mix, making for an album that has a rough edge and lots of distortion to it. There are also lots more brass instruments at play here, from horns to saxophone to trombone. It sounds amazing and ominous and huge. So, the band is just as comfortable leading a song with violins and horns as they are rocking out with guitars.
Yes, the vocals are gruff and a little scary. I love them. There is also this contrast between the rough vocals from Jon and the bright, clear vocals from Claudia and guest Megan Kovacs. This album uses the female vocals more often and to great effect, coming across as haunting and strange.
One of my favorite things about Major Parkinson is the surreal, unorthodox keyboard melodies. The keys are used in many different capacities, sometimes being an eerie backdrop and other times being the primary drive to the music. The brass section is also a very special feeling on this album. Sometimes it may just be a single instrument, and other times it is a Big Band portion as they play together.
The album starts off with a rather gentle and tame piece called “Lover, Lower Me Down!”, but launches into a favorite track called “Night Hitcher”, which has an addictive beat and a haunting chorus that will definitely have you humming it later.
The album has this tendency to have interludes between each track, or possibly preludes to each song. “Before the Helmets” feels like a short prelude to the following track, “Isabel – A Report to an Academy”. The former has a very melodic rhythm to the vocals that I wish they would have explored a little more, and the latter is a scary track with lots of intertwining voices, addictive guitars, and a great chorus. Again, “Scenes from Edison’s Black Maria” feels like an interlude/prelude of sorts, this time to “Madeleine Crumbles”, one of my favorite songs on the album. The former is a winding, beautiful passage that explodes into the latter. “Madeleine Crumbles” has this strong folk sound to it that is both playful and dark, utilizing violin and xylophone to amazing effect. The chorus is haunting and surreal, as are the weird lyrics. The song is direct in both being tongue in cheek as well as containing some of most mesmerizing, beautiful moments on the album.
“Baseball” is probably the strangest song on the album. I have no idea what it is actually about or what inspired it; something about baseballs, purple cigarettes, dinosaurs, and rocket ships. What I do know is that it is awesome. It has this jazzy quality that I love, and a momentous, cinematic feel with huge bassy beats, brass instruments, and great vocals. The best part? This insanity lasts over 10 minutes.
“Strawberry Suicide” is a weird ballad with a sweet but dark atmosphere that also feels like a lead-in to “Blackbox”, the final track on the album. The title track has probably the most addictive chorus on the album, and absolutely rocks with a wonderful brass ending. And, I’m not sure, but I think the term “testicle kid” is used. If that doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what will.
Major Parkinson has done it again. “Blackbox” retains all the charm and ambiguity of their past albums, while also adding more of everything. Sometimes, I wonder if they are pushing it to see how far they can go before we start getting uncomfortable. I, for one, am still with them. So, while being surreal and strange, the album is also beautiful and big. If you have an open mind, you need to hear this.
Find Major Parkinson online: