RM Allegiance – Endless Mirages

 RM Allegiance – Endless Mirages

RM Allegiance – Endless Mirages – Album Review

We’ve been talking a whole lot about the quirky characters of the independent music-scene making their returns to our pages as of late, and just how memorable so many of them are due to the uniqueness they’ve been sharing with the world.  Present company included…we’ll keep that conversation goin’ a bit more here today with the return of Eric McGrath, who we’ve reviewed in the past for a couple solo records back in 2019, and an album with Eyeing The Sky called Spectral Galaxies that we checked out before summer this year.  For those of you out there familiar with the name & with the music, you know every bit as well as I do to expect the unexpected…or perhaps more-so to the point, aside from the songs being rooted in Jazz, that’s the farthest an assumption should take you when it comes to the music he makes.  Beyond that, as to which twists & turns he’ll choose to make, is anyone’s guess…and quite truthfully, in many cases, likely even his own!

When it comes to the music of RM Allegiance, McGrath has teamed up with Pejman Rahimi once again after about a decade apart when it comes to art.  Rumor has it according to the write-up featured with Endless Mirages online, that this is actually their third record together…a fact of which I’m more than willing to take their word for, though I couldn’t confirm that for myself by finding the older records posted up on the net somewhere…but I have no reason to doubt’em.  As to why those early albums Magical and Reflections Of Evolution are tough to locate and/or might not be available online at the moment…you’ll have to ask them.  All I know in this case (and most, truthfully) is what’s right in front of my face and what’s heading into my ears currently…beyond that & what I’ve already told ya, the rest is somewhat of a mystery.  I can’t tell ya how they’ve grown as a unit over time…I’d assume they’ve both made impressive strides with their musicianship over the years before finding their way back to RM Allegiance…and with the write-up featured with Endless Mirages, you’ll read about how they chose to go into this session with a different mindset than they had before, willing to push themselves and their music as far as they could possibly go.

While I don’t know Rahimi half as well as I know McGrath…it’s in knowing 10% about Eric over these past years that I can tell ya, pushing music as far as it can go is what the man is all about.  And though an adventurous approach & avant-garde style of Jazz is damn near always going to yield extraordinarily varied results, opinions, and impressions on listeners out there – I can’t help but respect the ambition.  I’ve pretty much always acknowledged that the music he’s making is a tough, tough sell to the masses out there…heck, at times I’ve had trouble keeping up to his wild & untamed creativity myself – but when it comes to the definable spirit of what this art & craft is really all about, it’s hard to beat the passion he brings.  What I can confirm to ya is that Rahimi certainly doesn’t curb that penchant Eric has to head straight down the rabbit-hole with the music he makes, whether we’re able to follow them along or not…if anything you can hear it’s been encouraged to the nth degree more on this RM Allegiance album.

As you spin into the melody & grooves of “Satin Mountain” you’ll hear a whole combination of atmospheric elements that will range from smooth sailing at the very start, into a more rocky mid-section as RM Allegiance begins to lock-in.  By comparison eventually, you’ll find the vast majority of this opening cut stacks up to one of the easier tracks to follow on this record once you’ve toured through the whole selection; part of that is due to the length itself, and part of that is spending more time dialed-in to a specific set of ideas along the journey.  There’s depth & innovation in their ideas, musicianship, and overall talent for sure – but as you’ll hear on “Satin Mountain” right from the start, there are still many challenges for the average listener to overcome.  And I’ll put it to ya this way…there aren’t too many situations I can think of where I end up feeling like I’m the average everyday listener myself, but I think McGrath has been personally responsible for at least a few of’em throughout our time together.  Listening to Rahimi light up the guitar at the end of this cut was badass…made me want more of that tone & skill in the spotlight…which he’ll go on to willingly supply throughout many of the tracks on Endless Mirages.  I also dig that first hit in the switch into the organ right after the first minute too…maybe not everything that came along with it afterwards, but that initial transition introduces a uniquely warm glow & sound that gets a moment or two to shine & entice us all in to listen further.  Overall, “Satin Mountain” works a real stoic back & forth hypnotic rhythm at the core of its melody, whereby if you end up focusing on that specifically, you’ll be mesmerized & I cannot guarantee that they are not putting a trance upon you to keep listening thereafter; they may have already gotten to me.

“Glistening Crystal” instantly had my attention.  Not for any typical reasons you expect…it’s almost like we walked in on Rahimi jammin’ it up solo in a pre-show warm-up as this second cut begins, and it’s a genuine highlight moment on this record early on.  Gettin’ closer into the more experimental side of their sound that’ll get revealed more & more throughout the lineup, “Glistening Crystal” comes through with many effect moments…and a few that’ll have you raising an eyebrow or two in questioning along the way.  Like for myself personally, there’s a country mile’s worth of difference between the accessibility of say, the first half of the third-minute and the latter half on its way into the fourth, or the inspired spark you wanna hear in the music…there’s a bit of an imbalance there in that regard.  There are also moments where repetition becomes the enemy and no longer a rhythmic asset…part of that comes down to sound selection itself, part of that is just knowing when to move on, and part of it is where that repetition gets revealed in the mix…it’s a fine line to walk without question, and there are moments on “Glistening Crystal” that could arguably tip the scales in the wrong direction in that regard.  As it begins though, and you’ll find this is a factor in many of these songs, RM Allegiance instantly puts a quality idea on display, and usually with a bit more of an introductory approach & clarity adding to the impact…you know it’ll grow and expand from there, and quite often, this duo will take you into a whole wealth of sound & ideas your brain will barely understand what to do with or how to process – which makes you wonder what kind of superhuman dudes Pejman & Eric must be to make all this stuff happen, don’t you think?  Regardless of whether you think “Glistening Crystal” or any of these other songs hits the mark for ya in regards to your own personal taste, I think we can all agree by the time Endless Mirages is finished that you can’t make a record like this without putting in extreme effort.

The cheery opening to “Rhapsody At Sea” was excellent & immediately brings a brightness to this album that gives it an even friendlier & more invitational sound.  The keys just past the ninety-second mark are a giant highlight for McGrath’s musicianship and one of my favorite moments from him when it comes to the lead.  The background here…again…caution is advised…the repetition of the main piano line can be an asset at times when it’s in the thick of the mix, left more exposed on the surface it can become a bit too noticeable, static, and uncompromising in comparison to the rest.  There are tangible ideas at work here…ultimately, I think “Rhapsody At Sea” might even be the easiest for the masses to follow along with when it comes to these first three tunes…but no lie, if you’re already feeling like it’s a tough record to stick with and comprehend, I can promise ya that RM Allegiance isn’t gonna cater to that & make it any easier from here on in.  The shorter length of the opening three cuts alone will allow most the opportunity to find their way in…it frankly gives RM Allegiance less space to travel in before they can wander too far away from what most ears can absorb; it plays to their advantage as Endless Mirages begins for sure, and gives their music a genuine chance to make an impression with listeners out there & not reveal their whole bag of tricks too early on.  If you’re bold enough to stick around, you’ll find all kinds of innovative solos like at the end of “Rhapsody At Sea,” and expressive instrumentation that will continually display imagination, passion, and authentic love for the art of the jam all over this record.

“Endless Mirages” begins with a loose & jangly set of vibes creeping in along with some fairly cautious strumming & consideration applied as the song begins.  I mean…look…it’s not as if RM Allegiance started out this journey claiming you’d get a completely tight experience from start to finish – in fact, they’re more than fine with leaving the opposite impression I’m sure…these dudes are here to jam it out, have some fun, and push those limits of what we know when it comes to what we hear.  Of course there’s inherent risk with that!  The main being, it’s very tough to go the full distance through any one given tune on this record and not feel like it has its genius moments & its pitfalls at the very same time – and I hate to say it folks, but it’s the kind of music where you really do have to take the difficult & complex moments along with the easygoing ones ready to be absorbed – it’s impossible to separate the two aspects from RM Allegiance.  It’s also one of the main reasons you, I, McGrath, Rahimi, and any other musician out there you know got into making music in the first place…to let it go where it takes you, to conquest what naturally comes out, and somehow find a way to share that experience with others.  So while I know there’s no question that this title-track “Endless Mirages” splits off into so many directions that it leaves the everyday listeners out there with little to no hope of hanging out here or keeping up to the pure flood of instrumentation and ideas coming atcha…there’s still a lot to be admired about the process itself.  It’s a very creatively-free style of making music…and in cases like this one here, quite often becomes a collage of sounds that feels like it’s all coming at you from every angle…a little on the tough side of tunes when it comes to following it from point-A to point-B, but they sure are having fun.  The drums…I’ll go into this more later on (kind of, maybe?) – but they stand out here for the smart rhythms, complexity, tone, and punch they add to this title-tune…and you’ll also find this to be one of the times that Pejman & Eric have themselves a highly satisfying tit-for-tat duel of solo moments on this record that fuel the sixth-minute of this song.  Moments like that do a ton in favor of generating interest through the sheer amount of personality beaming from their instruments…it’s the highlight part of “Endless Mirages” and a successful approach you’ll find will show up again later on in this lineup of ten.

I know when it comes to my own personal taste, what tends to stop me most from being ready to accept some of these tunes comes down to sound selection itself.  Tracks like how “Satin Mountain” started out, or how “Funky Horizon” begins…no lie RM Allegiance, y’ain’t making it easy on us all this time around.  I listen to songs like “Ventolin” by Aphex Twin without hesitation…but at the end of the day, I know we all have our own version of whatever it is that nails on a chalkboard induces…I’m not quite saying “Funky Horizon” is completely built on that feeling, but as it begins it has a whole bunch of frequencies & tones that come out a bit on the scathing side for me in terms of texture & sensory sound.  Like I’m tellin’ ya…if the repetition of “Funky Horizon” wasn’t already kind of making me question this tune’s inclusion a bit by the start, once it tips past the first minute I think I become a hard no here.  That’s no fault on their musicianship and definitely not an assessment I feel like everyone out there will just automatically share; some textures can give a person a queasy feeling in music, just the same as you’d experience in eating food or touching art.  As I’ll go on to explain later, it’s indifference you want to avoid as an artist…and as I’ll tell ya now, even in the case of “Funky Horizon,” there’s no possibility of being devoid of feeling here…what might be too much for me might be just enough, or perfect, for you.

The first switch in “Ocean Master” around the 1:20 mark was one of my favorite moments on this record and a real transition into a noticeably different realm of sound.  There is more space at work as this song begins…is that a good move for RM Allegiance?  You bet.  Having the added clarity & space creates an even greater pull towards it to listen & hear the expressive notes of Rahimi’s guitar as “Ocean Master” begins.  I couldn’t quite tell ya what creates the separation and/or why it exists when it comes to a song like this (or others to be found on this record of substantial double-digit lengths)…it kind of plays in decisive chapters…some work out, some not as much…but when they’re completely separated by a chunk of actual silence…it almost strikes me like you’d wanna go with shorter two-minute cuts perhaps, as opposed to rolling the dice by stringing it all together into one tune that the majority of the people out there could never possibly stick with & follow from beginning to end, know what I mean?  Same result in terms of content overall…you can still line it all up one after the other, but with each defined piece coming out on its own in a shorter setting, it might give listeners more potential flexibility overall.  Because if they can grab a piece of it, then there’s a chance that they can grab onto more.  I can’t guarantee it of course…I’m somewhere in the middle of the fifth & seventh minute of this eleven-minute tune right now struggling and wondering what exactly it is we’re all doing here as we wander around kinda aimlessly…passing by several quality ideas without hesitation or a second thought as the layers collide & clash together in favor of a larger, more abstract soundscape, jarring the melody from one side to the other.  If you think you’re gonna find the subtlety of the beginning of “Ocean Master” come back somewhere towards the end, I can promise ya, you won’t…the madness of RM Allegiance kinda really takes hold here…and what started as a parsed out set of individual ideas and moments can quickly become a savagely abrasive endeavor that pulls no punches when it comes to adding more into the mix.  As they promised to do long before even pressing record, they’ve pushed this music they’re making as far as it can possibly go into the beyond & back again…it’s one serious commitment of a journey, and not one that I’m 100% convinced we can all take with them.  Endless Mirages is a challenging record.

Yeah…I mean…I really gotta call it like I’m hearing it guys, it’s just who I am and how I write – I listen to a song like “Ghosts Of Reflection” and I’m almost bewildered.  It’s the kind of song that makes you wonder about who the record is really for…as in, are they jamming it out and having fun, or are they even attempting to leave us any breadcrumbs whatsoever to be able to follow this trail they’re trippin’ out on?  Because one works, the other doesn’t…and I honestly don’t know what the expectation could be otherwise.  If this is for each of them personally, right on…they’re clearly doing what they do because they love it and that’s great…but if it’s truly intended for the rest of us, I think there’s still a ton of objectivity that needs to be applied in examining how these have come out.  Eric, I pull no punches & ya know that…and I’m looking at you here brother…because a lot of the jarring aspects of these tunes are coming directly from the beating being placed on the keyboards & synths & whatnot…and even that in itself, I could get behind if that was the only issue…but where these moments take over the main aspect of the mix or the melody…I mean…that’s exactly what’s happening – they’re taking it over, 100%.  Maybe a softer touch is required…maybe it comes down to letting Pejman have more space in the music & vice-versa…or maybe this is just how this collaboration wants to sound…it’s hard to say.  The point is that it becomes very difficult for us to separate the concept of experimental from songs that need more refinement, structuring, and direction when it comes right down to it…the cohesion in Endless Mirages is extremely tough to tap into.  Most of the time, this whole record nearly feels like it’s being played by two musicians playing over-top of each other, rather than responding to what the ideas being put out there are – that make any sense?  I’m not saying every sound has to be a complement to the other, but there does have to be some sort of cohesive thread that bonds this all together beyond the length of time being played for…& it’s hard to make the argument that this is the case on “Ghosts Of Reflection.”  Think of it this way…there is the ‘less is more’ crowd out there, and then there is RM Allegiance who have clearly decided that ‘more is more’ – this really becomes about which you personally subscribe to; if you’re not a linear/symmetry-seeking person…chances are, you’ll dig their oddly disjointed approach.  When each of these songs seemed to present a crystal clear idea in their opening moments, and continually broke away from them as they shifted in sound…it wasn’t always easy to let go.  Like I think “Ghosts Of Reflection” started out with its own kinda neat deal goin’ on…but on a tonal-level, the moments soon afterwards quickly clash harshly…and it’s a real tough beat for this track to recover from.  As solid & reliable as the core grooves of “Ghosts Of Reflection” truly are, you can’t even get close to them with all that’s on the surface…and the scattered nature of this cut generally sounds way less sure of itself than the majority of the songs on the album…we’re questioning their decisions, but it sounds like they are as well as they play their way through this tune, hesitant & apprehensive at times, and surging with confidence at others, inexplicably entwined through the whole experience…which is…odd.

There it is…right there…the 2:15 mark of “Desert Silhouettes” – that defined separation that at this point in the record, I’ve now been taught to brace myself for the switch about to follow.  Up to that point, zero issues & no complaints whatsoever…the extra space is there, the ideas are solid, and overall, the added clarity stacks up to a highly interesting listen – but as almost all of these tunes have shown us, it’s the next chapter that tends to challenge our ears the most & color way outside of the lines.  You won’t find that aspect quite as pronounced on “Desert Silhouttes” – in fact, I’d argue it’s probably one of the more accessible songs on a record that has precious few tunes that give us much opportunity in that regard…but alas, the mix on this cut also presents some new obstacles as well.  You want your solo moments in there, and I get that…as to whether or not they need to be as far above the rest of the music involved…I’d probably be inclined to question that at least a little bit.  Like I mentioned earlier, when a new idea or instrument tends to step in, quite often it quickly becomes the dominant trait and takes right over the rest without apologies; when the sound works and our ears accept it, no problemo – but when it’s a more jarring sound or brighter element than the rest of the mix, extreme caution & care is required to not let it become too much.  You can’t help but listen to a record like Endless Mirages and understand that both Rahimi and McGrath are audiophiles at their very core – they love all kinds of sound and literally as much as they can get of whatever it is, at nearly all times.  I ain’t mocking it – not at all – in many ways I get it & identify as one of those folks myself…but I’m also realistic about how other people tend to listen to tunes, and when it comes right down to it, I have no doubt that RM Allegiance is set to for a hard battle ahead in converting ears outside of the experimental/Jazz realms with a record like this.  LISTEN to the beginning of this tune though will ya?  There’s more character & personality in the first 2:15 of this track than you’ll find on the majority of most albums…likely my favorite moment of any song in the entire lineup of Endless Mirages, and arguably one of their least complex but most focused & perfectly executed spots to be found…whatever created this beginning is what I’d be seeking out more of.  The thing is, RM Allegiance could probably do that part in their sleep…it’s the thrill of the creative hunt that keeps these two charged up and always moving on quickly to the next set of ideas to be found; I don’t know if they’re just restless or what…but they seem to wanna keep goin’ until they’re 100% all-in from every conceivable angle when it comes to the bulk of this album’s set-list.  I highly suspect that the moments where clarity & space have been more prevalent are making a more memorable impact overall…and I think that’s probably why I’d be leaning more towards something like “Desert Silhouettes” as having a proper opportunity to make an impression on ya in comparison to the tracks stuffed full.

Because again, when you listen to how so many of these songs start out and the ideas, hooks, and melodies that they’re so willing to pass right over when they could have made everything so easy & accessible, you have to acknowledge that it’s a choice they’ve purposely made with intention, artistic integrity, and instrumental conviction.  They’re fully rocking and right into these songs…so far into them that it’s completely like the rest of us out here in the world don’t even exist – and maybe that’s the exact way that ALL art & music truly SHOULD be made…I’m sure I could debate that for days – but I ain’t gonna lie, it can be tough to toss some of these exceptional ideas in favor of what seems to inevitably become the jarring wall of sound, dominant layers, or just quite often too much cookin’ in the same pot.  It’s for all these reasons & more I’m quite inclined to go with a tune like “Epic Moonlight” as what’s likely a more accessible cut than “Desert Silhouettes” even was before this.  The amount of space & the pace set out here serves RM Allegiance GREATLY…”Epic Moonlight” is a track you can get into, appreciate, and willingly absorb…the rhythm & groove of the rhythm section really shines perfectly here, and the tightness you’ve been looking for, the cohesion & complementary layers that suit the song are so much more on display & intact here.  It IS a thirteen minute-plus tune…so don’t get me wrong, it’s still got its moment that “Epic Moonlight” struggles a bit…probably more mix-wise when the piano gets involved than anything else…listen to the difference between where that sits and where the guitar sits in the killer solo right afterwards – the latter part is the goal.  Piano’s a tougher animal when it comes to harnessing the brightness it can bring to a song…but by that same token, it’s almost a given that when it comes in to contribute, believe me, we’ll hear it…so keeping it a bit lower-key & chilled-out volume-wise would likely end up serving the bulk of what RM Allegiance creates.  Yes you want those solos to stand out – but lest we forget, there is so much going on in the background of these songs as well, my concern would be that the dominant traits that come bursting to the top of the mix would take away from the efforts being put in, and a whole lot of tangible hooks that ultimately keep these entire songs in-line.  I think the guitar tones and musicianship on display on “Epic Moonlight” is all freakin’ remarkable and rad to listen to – and I enjoyed the battle/back & forth that these two have towards the end of this song, even if the mix gets a bit away from them at points or I didn’t always dig whatever particular sound it had.  The reverse was equally true; some of those moments in the back & forth between the call & answer moments of “Epic Moonlight” and its guitars & synth were genius & worth the whole price of admission right there – all-in-all, the finale of this track felt like one of the real highlight moments on Endless Mirages that revealed both the creativity and the unity in their collaboration at the same time.

I love the expressive way that Eric plays, and when he’s locked into sounds I dig, even better of course.  Letting the natural sound of the piano ring true as “Shades Of Forever” begins was a solid move and makes for an enticing opening.  Sure there’s the occasional moment here & there for a jarring chord or a hit of unintended double-keys along the way, but it’s all about the passion, man!  For real, he puts in a quality performance of his avant-garde style over the course of the first five minutes with just himself and the piano working their magic on ya.  Being the more isolated & intimate moment that it is, I ain’t gonna lie, it makes the ‘part-II’ of this track in the switch around the five-minute mark roar outta your speakers by comparison, but the instant assembly of this jazzy jam has an upbeat & inviting vibe that’ll keep you listening to the end.  I see credits for everything on this record except for the drums…I’m not entirely sure why that is, or if that means they’re programmed or whatever by Eric’s keys…but at the heartbeat of each of these tunes, “Shades Of Forever” certainly included, it’s always been a stoic & reliable part of the music no matter which cut.  When they dip into more decisively dissonant tones like, say around the 7:30-8:30 mark, again, it has me questioning their moves a little bit, or wondering if they’re rushing when they don’t need to be…it’s the kind of thing that players with skills like these could quickly & easily sort out, yet they leave these more challenging notes & tones in there for us in so many of these songs instead.  So you have to assume it’s intentional…but yeah…strange choices in considering the alternative would be to just ensure a smooth glide from start to finish like they’re clearly capable of – but hey, that’s art, that’s music, and that’s life…we don’t all do things the same way and that’s a beautiful thing, no matter what conclusion you draw to about any artist or band.  When Eric settles into a particular sound that he’s bringing into the mix, you’ll find that “Shades Of Forever” reveals a whole lot of his creativity & musical ingenuity…and you get to spend more time with each element here as opposed to moments earlier on where it can feel like he’s roaming through the options on his keyboard to find the right piece to bring to songs on the fly.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s value in that too – like I’ve been saying from the very beginning, in ambitious & artistic tunes like this you gotta take the gold with the coal…it’s all those same very moments are fully responsible for the sheer range of ideas that remains a constant throughout this record & keeps us held mesmerized by its shape-shifting sounds.  I’ll put it to ya this way…”Shades Of Forever” kind of sums up how I feel about Endless Mirages on the whole – you’ll never get bored, that’s for sure.  And I’ll say this as well…for being a sixteen minute-plus song to end a record after four additional ten-plus minute tunes right beforehand, the odds were somewhat stacked against this last tune from being able to stand-out as it probably should – but I felt like RM Allegiance pushed past that to deliver a cut that’s true to their style, but more accessible than the majority of the rest by quite a few degrees.  I think that’s gonna be a big factor on getting people out there to commit to another spin for sure…ending it on the approachable style & welcoming vibes of “Shades Of Forever” will have you fully considering that repeat just to see out of sheer curiosity, that maybe you ‘get it now’ – and if you heard it all again, the whole thing might even make more sense.

To be completely fair to RM Allegiance, I think that’s completely true.  There’s no way a lil’ dab will do ya – you feel me?  You gotta get invested in a record like this and give it serious spins if you want to come to the objective truth on how you feel about it & what you respond to – and that in itself says a lot.  True art & music is meant to be polarizing, talked about, considered, debated…ain’t it?  The last thing you’d ever want in the world is indifference…and I don’t see how anyone out there could feel that way towards an album such as this.  It provokes that discussion & elicits a response from all of us listening – never underestimate the value in that when it comes to developing a dedicated fan-base – the people don’t just want another top-40 hit parade, they want music with substance that chooses to be MORE.

And like I’ve been tellin’ ya…if MORE is YOUR thing, believe me, RM Allegiance has got plenty in-store for ya – MORE is what they do, full-stop, end of story really – but you will also go on to discover a duo willing to provide a healthy dose of creativity, art, music, & the true freedom of expression combined throughout the lineup of ten purely wild, ambitious, weird, and wonderful tracks on Endless Mirages.

Find more music by Eric McGrath at his official page at Bandcamp here:  https://ericmcgrath1974.bandcamp.com

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Jer@SBS

http://sleepingbagstudios.ca

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