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Music Review: Pronto – The Cheetah

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Pronto, the side project of Wilco keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, daringly ventures into the realm of musical experimentation on the new instrumental release, The Cheetah. This sophomore album is a collection of twelve synth infused, digitally crafted songs that create a mellow, atmospheric, and somewhat bizarre soundscape.

While Pronto’s debut release, All Things Golden, was defined by its 1970s pop/rock style, hints of folk, catchy hooks, clever songwriting, and strong vocals, The Cheetah offers none of those things. Although this doesn’t necessarily make it a bad album, it certainly doesn’t make it a great one.

Unfortunately, this is a collection of songs that, at times, borders dangerously close to Muzak land. That being said, amidst the mundane and lullabye-ish moments of this stroll into the land of wordless, electronic pop, there are some cool effects and catchy grooves.

The opening track, “Tectonics”, begins like a hymn and is played on a synthesizer with interesting dissonant harmonies. Sadly, the drums enter after only twenty seconds or so, and the track (filled with rapid fire, staccato synthesizer notes) turns into what seems like background music for an Atari game (but with a real drummer playing along)—not the most impressive album opener.

The first nice moment on the album comes with the third track, “Einladung”, which features smooth guitar work by Chris Girard that is complimented by dancing synth sounds and a drone-like bass line. However, it is the next track, “Catch the Martian”, that finally brings the album to life. Its upbeat, jazzy style is accentuated with sci-fi sound effects and some clever drumming by Greg O’Keefe.

The title track showcases Girard’s guitar work again. It is a gentle, lulling piece that would serve well for mood-setting music or as a backing score for film or television use (Truthfully, it would be perfect for something sappy like a Dawson’s Creek reunion show). While the song is soothing and pretty, the only thing that keeps it from being included on one of the relaxation CD’s sold at the likes of Walmart or Target is the absence of trickling water and distant thunder heard behind the music.

The only true “rocker” on the album is “The Monster”. This is the track that would later evolve into the song “Monster” from Pronto’s previous album. While the drum beat is energetic and the riffs are catchy, it only amounts to being a very early demo of what would later turn into a great fully realized song. This infant-stage recording will likely be of interest to Pronto fans.

As the album progresses, the tracks become more and more experimental, making use of new technologies and stretching the boundaries of digitally created sound and music. At one point, the voice of Bob Geldof is even heard speaking over the music and madness. This progression is understandable since the album itself is billed as being “the product of discovering new technological music-making tools, and documenting the resulting inspiration.”

Although this album may not appeal to the masses, being an instrumental recording of such an electronic and experimental nature, the musical talent and technological knowledge of Jorgenson and his crew are evident on The Cheetah and should be recognized. The music from this album doesn’t result from the work of a songwriter trying to create a radio hit or a catchy chorus. Instead, it comes from the work of a producer/musician exploring the possibilities of using technology to create music.

All that being said, The Cheetah isn’t a simple or easily digested album. You won’t find yourself humming a tune after a listen. The effect is more subtle, and the instrumental parts, though repetitive, are often interwoven and layered, requiring meditative listening to be appreciated. It is easy to imagine that listeners who are under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs could have an intense experience listening to the combination of swirling sounds and various instruments that create this unusual, textured style of music (though this author, in no way, condones such activity).

If you are looking for well crafted, pop/rock music with strong melodies and memorable lyrics, you should probably stick with All Things Golden. However, if you want to sit back, relax, and immerse yourself in ambient, trance-inducing sound, then The Cheetah could be your musical ticket to Zen.

*The tracks from the album were recorded between 2000 and 2004, and in addition to Jorgenson, Girard, and O’Keeffe, guest musicians on the recording include Rob Mazurek (cornet) and Noel Kupersmith (bass). The Cheetaha was released by Contraphonic as a digital only album and is available from all major music sites. An expanded version that included animated videos and visual effects from artist Michael Lascarides is available exclusively from Contraphonic.

Pronto’s official website

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About Jason Spraggins

Jason was born in Bells, TN. As a high school musician, Jason achieved membership in the All-West Tennessee Honor Band and, as a senior, received the John Phillips Sousa Award. He was also the 1998 recipient of the Joe Kincaid Memorial Scholarship for Musicians. He later earned his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education with an English minor from Lambuth University in Jackson, TN. As a student at Lambuth, he participated in and was a featured soloist for the University Jazz Band (playing first alto sax). He also performed with the school's Brass Ensemble (on tuba) and Wind Band (playing first sax and tuba). Over the years, Jason has served as a summer camp instructor for various high school band programs in the area and has arranged concert band, small ensemble, and marching band music for a variety of ensembles. As a church musician, he has served as pianist and has directed vocal and hand chime groups. He has also taught instrumental music privately since his graduation. In 2004, Jason wrote the script and songs for a two act Christmas musical entitled Beyond Bethlehem. The musical has been performed twice locally and has now been submitted for publication. He is currently preparing the scores for two new shows, Elizabethtown: A Musical Western and Adventures in the Closet: A Children's Musical, both of which he is co-writing with his long-time friend and collaborator, Andy Brown. The two are also busy developing a cycle of songs for a concept album entitled Garfield County. In addition, Jason is working on a musical, "Beneath the Surface," based on the John Wayne Gacy murders of the 1970's. Aside from these projects, Jason is also preparing a set of instrumental pieces for a solo piano album called Daydreams and Reflections that is to be recorded in the coming year. Along with his current theatrical projects, Jason is actively writing stand-alone songs to be pitched to publishing houses and studios and is working to earn album placement and the inclusion of his music in T.V. and film. As a writer, Jason has a variety of approaches when crafting songs. At times he writes alone, creating both the lyrics and music himself. He most often writes with Andy Brown, setting Andy's lyrics to music. One of their new stand-alone songs, "Yours," just received a glowing review and was nominated as "Best of SongU.com" (an online songwriting community/music industry website based in Nashville). Recently, Jason has collaborated on a number of songs with composer Matt Glickstein from Hawaii, providing lyrics for Matt's compositions. The very first collaboration by Spraggins and Glickstein, a song called "Ghosts," was also nominated as "Best of SongU.com" (an honor several more of Jason's works have earned) by an award-winning professional songwriter with over a hundred cuts to his credit by major artists in country, rock, and contemporary Christian music.