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Far too many groups are described using the words ''nobody sounds like them,'' but with Switzerland's Sonar, it's a description of rare verisimilitude. At a time when most guitarists' acumen is measured in notes per second, Sonar is, instead, the confluence of rigorously considered writing, collective restraint, and a sound instantly recognizable as much for what is not there as for what is. A musical animal that manages to engage the mind while hitting the heart and the feet (despite its disposition towards complex polyrhythms), to call SONAR ''instrumental rock'' is unfairly reductionist for a group whose purview extends beyond progressive rock into contemporary classicism...certainly minimalism...a subtle taste of jazz...and, on its latest album, Black Light, perhaps even a hint of surf music described by the group's primary composer, guitarist Stephan Thelen, as ''Duane Eddy Meets Jackson Pollock.''
Thelen may cite King Crimson, the compositional rigour of Nik Bärtsch, and minimalist composer Steve Reich amongst SONAR's more obvious touchstones but, just as its previous albums did, Black Light manages to come out of the gate sounding like none of them. An integrated team of players who place music ahead of ego, guitarists Thelen and Bernhard Wagner relentlessly eschew flashy gymnastics and even largely avoid the usual arsenal of effects beyond a touch of reverb and a bit of distortion; Christian Kuntner is a lithe, dancing and eminently intuitive bassist while, at the same time, providing a potently visceral foundation; and Manuel Pasquinelli accomplishes the seemingly impossible feat of simultaneously delivering multiple rhythms in real time.
Black Light also represents the first time Sonar has recorded with an outside producer in tow. And what a producer: David Bottrill, whose work as a producer and/or engineer, in addition to Crimson, Peter Gabriel and Tool, also includes time spent with Rush, Smashing Pumpkins and Dream Theater. ''The music is at once simple and complex,'' Bottrill writes at his website, ''polyrhythms over melodies over thunderous bass and a drummer who can seem to split his own body in half to play in two or more different meters at once.'' Recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, Black Light is as in-the-moment as it gets and is a perfect representation of this band and what this band does!
A really fascinating blend of art-rock, groove-based minimalism and abstract mathematical theory, all woven together to great effect. --John Schaefer, host of New Sounds
This quartet is unlike anything you've heard before. How often can you say you've encountered a truly unique act? Rarely. Here's one that qualifies. --Anil Prasad
Had MC Escher made music instead of drawing his famously impossible and perplexing perspectives, it would sound like Sonar. --Sid Smith, Prog Magazine