(Radar Recordings/Gilead Media, CD/vinyl)
Since the release of their debut EP in 2001, Burlington's Cancer Conspiracy have attracted more than their fair share of made-up, obscure labels. Post-rock? Yeah. Math-rock? Why not? Prog-rock? Maybe a little. Post-prog? I mean, come on. Whatever you call it, the band's latest and, sadly, final offering is an album so devoid of pretense it almost has to seem pretentious. Titled simply Ω, it comes in a stark white album cover (available in black on vinyl) with lower-case Roman numerals as song titles. Contrary to the unadorned cover, the disc contains a sound so lush it is at once indescribable and yet intimately familiar.
The first song, "i," is an ethereal, minimal intro track which, for me, is pretty much a write-off. But "ii" immediately evokes the prog spirit of Dream Theater with haunting guitars that echo through the tune's meandering construct. Here the band avoids the prototypical "loud-soft-loud" format embraced by post-rock. Instead, guitar riffs layer upon each other, progressively looping back and forth.
"iv" displays ambient guitar by Daryl Rabidoux that yields to Greg Beadle's precision drum work. The man is a machine. "vi" demonstrates another facet of the band's repertoire, featuring droning keys - also courtesy of Beadle - and wailing guitars in a cacophonous piece that made me feel like a towel tossed around in the dryer.
"vii" is the standout in this fine collection. The song features harmonious yet discordant soundscapes not unlike those of Explosions in the Sky, as well as changeups and variations telling a musical narrative reminiscent of Tortoise's T.N.T.
Fronted by guitarist Rabidoux, The Cancer Conspiracy's core trio is joined on the disc by Carrigan's Zack Martin and Ken Johnston as well as engineering guru Matt Squire. The band layers sound upon sound, creating an auditory texture that ties diverse influences together into an album that could easily be a post-prog masterpiece. Now they even have me saying "post-prog."
The Cancer Conspiracy are certainly post-something. Maybe post-everything. They represent a growing minority of musicians and music lovers intent on learning from the mistakes of the past and building on its artistic successes. This album, presented as a singular, cohesive concept, is easy to talk about but difficult to dissect.
Ω might not be for everyone. Taking on "post" anything demands that the listener abandon many of music's more accessible elements - just try bobbing your head at a Trans Am show. But maybe some things are meant to be appreciated for intrinsic value alone. Or maybe that's just a pretentious way of saying, "This is good, but I can't figure out why the fuck I like it."