Catch This Aristocratic Ball

Victoria and the Haruspex (Independent)
The Red Masque

By David Lilly

How long is your attention span? In regard to that and patience, Victoria and the Haruspex separates the "long" from the "short" and the "haves" from the "have nots." This CD from the Philadelphia-based progressive music band The Red Masque could send commercial radio programmers running and screaming for their lives.

It isn't just that the first song, the nearly 25-minute "Haruspex," lasts longer than the rest of the songs put together, either; they'd be terrified that the intro to this song takes a good three or four minutes, which is just about the life span of most chart-toppin' hits.

But wait, there's more to the story. Versatile lead singer Lynette Shelley alternates between mountain singing, operatic singing, chanting and seemingly singing in tongues. Mate that with the band's tendency to travel through the twilight world of percussion and you can divide people who hear this CD into two groups: those who relish these lengthy compositions of bizarre music and those who will cover their ears and run in the opposite direction. Just for kicks, instead of the usual thundering bass occasionally heard throbbing in the car next to me (or you) at a red light, it might be fun to hear some Red Masque music blaring instead.

"Haruspex" is impossible to categorize, but until you hear it and make up your own mind, anticipate it as a sort of cosmic hoe-down having no connection whatsoever with country music. It begins and ends with what sounds like the tinkling musical sounds of a mobile attached to an infant's crib. Between those ends lives a circus of sounds. "Why David, whatever do you mean?" you will inquire. Well, there's chirping, swirling, sliding metal, a crazed push-button phone, the banging of pots and pans, and the electronic plucking of chicken feathers; all of which (and then some) sounds are made with musical instruments.

Backed by various drum rhythms from a clearly talented musician named Vonorn, Shelley's vocals take strange flights that enhance the otherworldly ambience of this opening cut. The idiosyncratic "Birdbrain" recalls Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine," but isn't close enough to call it plagiarism. While "Birdbrain," "Afterloss" and "Cenotaph" (for those who can't get enough of harp solos) are more accessible than "Haruspex," this disc is for patient adventurers of strange musical journeys.