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Coptic Light - Coptic Light

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Artist: Coptic Light

Album: Coptic Light

Label: No Quarter

Review date: Jan. 4, 2006

The front cover of Coptic Light's debut album bears an appropriate image, that of a squadron of planes in tight formation. The band's neo-prog approach carries a similar feeling of tight control, built on a strong rhythmic framework. It's tempting to compare the band with fellow New Yorkers The Psychic Paramount, but only in that both bands are rock instrumentalists with a penchant for guitar pyrotechnics and rhythmic complexity. Where the Paramount are led by their hearts, Coptic Light follow a less emotional, more intellectual route; the results are less immediately inflammatory, but reward more careful listening. This is perhaps not surprising, with their pedigree: the trio consists of guitarist Jon Fine (Don Caballero), bassist Jeff Winterberg (Antioch Arrow), and drummer Kevin Shea (Storm & Stress).

The 44 minutes here are somewhat arbitrarily divided into three songs, each over 10 minutes in length. I say arbitrarily because each of these songs could have easily been subdivided; the opening "Mix the Races," for example, around the halfway mark abruptly breaks from a frenzied drum and guitar churn into quietly pretty guitar picking. In true prog fashion, these songs shift, often without warning, from mood to mood, but what's perhaps surprising is the restraint shown throughout. Some listeners may actually wish for more chaos, as they'll likely find more atmosphere than expected.

If there's a drawback to the band's tendency towards change, it's that the shifts don't always feel connected; it's easy to think that perhaps the band decided to put a change in just because they could, not because it helped the song develop. Maybe that’s unnecessary second-guessing. A 19-minute song is either going to traverse a great deal of territory or it's going to be a bore, and Coptic Light easily steer away from the latter pitfall. While there may occasionally be the feeling that a change was arbitrary, there's also welcome surprise.

"Mix the Races" concludes with a quiet chiming that flows directly into "The Horse," which moves smoothly into a nice section dominated by steady toms, almost a tribal stomp. That's a brief stop-over on the way to several minutes of ambient float, until the drums come back and the guitars fly in clusters of notes and seemingly looped layers of sound.

The oddly-named "Eat it High School," the massive 19-minute album closer, moves easily from initial fast geometric guitar figures over rolling drums into an impressive chugging, thence quickly through a floating, ambient segment on into further adventures. The lengthy middle section is pensive, with quietly clattering percussion adding motion to more static bass throb and sporadic guitar strums, until later it grows even quieter, almost silent, for the last few minutes. It's an unexpectedly peaceful conclusion.

By Mason Jones

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