Last year, you may remember that I reviewed a solo album from Josh Kay, a guitarist from Portland, Oregon. The music was crafted maturely and exactly, and the influences were difficult to identify in some respects. Josh Kay is back as part of a band named Alizarin, and their debut album, called “Cast Zenith”, released on July 20th.
“Alizarin” refers to a reddish-orange compound used in pigments for paints. It’s an odd name, for sure. Anyways, the band officially hails from Los Angeles, and I can honestly hear that indescribable West Coast sound in the music, like there is a fresh breeze and sunshine emanating from the music. The band consists of Josh Kay on guitars and programming, Jon Damon on drums, and Steve Ostaszewski on bass. These three really work well together, giving no hints that they are not seasoned veterans already.
Some of my observations on Josh’s solo album are the same as for this new offering. The music is instrumental, and it still rides the line between metal and rock, and I think that is even more noticeable on this album because I hear remnants of David Gilmour, but also of Jim Matheos. Basically, Josh’s guitar work avoids labels while offering loads of atmosphere, purposeful licks, and giant solos reminiscent of the metal genre. Add in Jon’s voluptuous drumming and Steve’s powerful bass, not to mention the exquisite, spacey programming and some outstanding keyboard solos from guest musicians, and you have music that offers a little bit of everything.
As purposeful and warm as this album is, it does suffer from something to which many instrumental albums fall prey: the songs are often indistinguishable. For an instrumental album to be elevated, the songs need to have personality and catchiness that create an individual presence for each of them. The tone on this album is pretty even throughout, so describing one song basically describes the whole album. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t shining moments of brilliance, though. There are many here. However, there is a marked lack of character that will leave you wanting something a bit richer and more inspired, and the album sometimes can get lost in a bit of filler or wankery.
Like I said, there are many strong moments. “Faint Home” is one of them. It starts the album with very direct guitar work along with some playful keyboard segments. Another moment would be “The Vast Enigma”, which has a nice wandering sound that crashes right up against Josh’s strong guitars. My favorite is probably “The Window Afar”: It really does have this synthy atmosphere to it, plus a bit of whimsy. Finally, “Luminous Apparition” has a Floydian atmosphere which feels so very nice, especially at the beginning, but launches into guitar soloing from there. Eventually, though, a nice ambiance of fragility and whimsicality kicks in to end the album.
Yet, that last song also demonstrates the weakness of this album. Right when the song has achieved something musically satisfying, the guitars kick in and remove it. I understand that there isn’t an official keyboardist here, and I think that becomes quite noticeable as the guitar work itself is great, but could use backing that matches and elevates it more often. In fact, the guitars needs some sort of contrast that will enhance them ever more. Having most of the keys and other instrumentals programmed, too, removes some of the potential for personality, which goes back to my earlier point about some of the songs being indistinguishable.
I say all of this because Alizarin has a solid debut here, and I see the potential. I’m not trying to tear down what they’ve built, but rather encourage them to pursue something more. “Cast Zenith” has some truly wonderful moments on it, but nothing that I would call memorable or mind-blowing. It’s a good album that I’m glad I heard, and I think fans of instrumental music should definitely check it out soon. However, I feel like the emotions lock in Josh’s heart haven’t fully been released yet.