The most difficult balance to strike in music is that of respecting the influences that brought you to the stage without being a parody of those same influences. If you listen to enough music, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Every now and then you’ll run across a new artist that you know — you are absolutely certain — was the president of some other artist’s fan club. This is never more true than in progressive rock, where bands are often defined by certain styles and are therefore unique unto themselves…until the fan club president comes along and makes a band that sounds disturbingly similar. Finding your own thing while honoring those who inspired you is tough.
There are a few bands doing it though, and are excelling at walking that tightrope. Add to that rarefied rank Aisles who hail from Chile. Their offering 4:45 AM is not ambiguous about what the band members listened to coming up, but that have found a way of raking it all in and making it their own. A concept album that revolves around the good, the bad, and the ugly that occurs in the overnight hours, 4:45 AM resists the temptation to imply that everything goes straight to hell just before dawn. That alone is a feat considering late-period prog’s fascination with crawling into the listener’s head to hatch spider eggs. Just as there are many reasons to be on the night shift, there are just as many ways the band approaches these descriptive vignettes.
As for those influences that prefaced this analysis, the title track hints at Permanent Waves-era Rush while the second track, an instrumental titled “Gallarda Yarura,” filters late Yes and early Marillion. “Hero” follows a thread that suggests late-’80s Joe Satriani, then morphs into the soundtrack of a movie you’ve never seen, then back to the main figure, then finally overhears early Queen. And while the listener will perk up when they hear these touchstones referenced, the album resides as its own thing, and so does the band.
Another plus for Aisles is that, while they have clearly grown with music from North America and Europe, their songs are undeniably from another region. The vocals, all in English, do not follow ruts we’ve come to expect in the genre. The percussion alongside the tricky time signatures feels far more varied, and not militaristic. And approach is key. The closing track “Melancholia” employs vocal harmonies that sound wholly organic, and the structure of the song is that of a slow build to a crescendo. Bucking the trends, there is a graduated coda as well, and that crescendo resists becoming cartoonishly anthemic. Aisles’ greatest strength may well be their restraint in a genre that rewards the lack thereof.
While 4:45 AM was released in 2013, it has only now come my way. If you are into prog rock, I suggest you shouldn’t let it pass you by.