by Prog Nick
We all love surprises, right? Often, one of the best things about the best modern music is indeed the element of surprise. When I was sent the latest album by Jason Bieler and the Baron Von Bielski Orchestra, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I cannot really explain how or why I have overlooked Bieler until now (even his previous band Saigon Kick escaped my attention until recently), but this album, ‘Postcards From the Asylum’, made me sit up like a startled jack rabbit in a Nordic field. The album engaged me from the first second to the last – it made me listen.
‘Postcards From the Asylum’, comprises the follow up to 2021’s critically acclaimed ‘Songs For The Apocalypse’, and I can say without hesitation that the 2023 album is also a keeper. Jason Bieler is a quite obviously man of many talents: a writer, producer, singer, composer, guitarist, and (apparently) a fashion/hand-model. Bieler, then, is a bit of an enigma, and his music follows suit. But enigmatic or not, one thing is certain: this music will grab you by the ears and shake, rattle and Prog you to exhaustion – in the best possible way.
Part comedian and part musical prodigy, Bieler reveals in his entertaining press bios and interviews that ‘Postcards From The Asylum’ features several unexpected collaborations. There are guest appearances by Andee Blacksugar (Blondie, KMFDM), Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson and just about everyone else), Todd “Dammit” Kerns (Slash and The Conspirators), Edu Cominato (Geoff Tate, Soto) and Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard and Progject). All humor aside, this is quite a line-up.
The album contains 15 very strong songs with an impressive consistency, often delivered with humorous zest. The album opens with a trio of bombastic rockers with the fist-pumping “Bombay” leading the way and incorporating Bieler’s signature vocal harmonies throughout the chorus. One of the album’s strongest tracks is the haunting ballad “Mexico” which is brilliantly arranged and offers a gorgeous payoff at the end. This is followed by the mid-tempo “Birds of Prey” featuring Ryo Okumoto on piano, with one of the album’s best hooks that will stay with you for days. But before you get too comfortable, Beiler again flips things upside down with the bonkers “Flying Monkeys”, a crazy prog number that only he could produce, featuring the perfect drummer for this track, Marco Minnemann. By this point in the album, you realize you have no idea what might come next.
There are several other stand-out tracks: ‘Sic Riff’ could (quite literally) contain the heaviest guitar riff of the year, delivered in a 12/4 time. Bieler’s snarling line: ‘Sic riff bringing you hits, when the drummer slows down, the beats get sick’ may or may not have been written about the drummer, but all I can say is that on this track, he gives it everything he’s got. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, “The Depths” is a sombre but beautiful melody that really allows Bieler’s fine voice to shine around a thumping rhythm that punctuates a great acoustic melody.
Queen (or perhaps The Sweet?) harmonies are to be heard in ‘Beneath the Waves’, and ‘Sweet Eliza’ is one of the best melodic ballads of recent years. It is sweet indeed, and one of the high points of the album. ‘Feels Just Like Love’ brings in a punk rock feel to spice things up before heading into ‘Bear Sedatives’ a scything, stabbing mid-tempo rocker that will make you feel like you are at a metal concert that was somehow promoted by circus raconteurs Barnum and Bailey. (I’ll label this song ‘circus metal’ for now – in fact that epithet is a pretty good description of the overall general musical feel on the album). Simply brilliant, ‘Bear Sedatives’ is about the notion that depression killed the dinosaurs – an outstanding theatrical pop-metal tour de force of three-ring proportions. Bringing all the maritime themes to a head is ‘Deep Blue’, one of the proggiest tracks on the album, sounding like Devin Townsend and Steve Vai meeting Ghost. It is a particularly well-constructed song and is one example of some of the dark themes on the album. The album closes on the uplifting yet disturbing acoustic track “Human Head” which opens with the line “I bought a human head, and placed it on my shelf”. What a way to close.
The Production of the album is somewhat dense (and even perhaps opaque) in places, but somehow this seems to suit the music perfectly and it must therefore have been quite intentional. The humor and irony underpinning all the Prog-metal theatrics are pervasive and consistently reflected in the audio quality, which is top-drawer.
If you like Devin Townsend’s brand of zany Prog (or even Frank Zappa’s), but also have more melodious proclivities, you will love this. The 15 songs on the album embrace just about every style from Prog to rock to pop to metal and everything in between. Bieler’s snarling but melodic voice and guitar riffs permeate and impress throughout. Put another way, this guy is a real box of surprises.
You will dance, you will sing, you will be serenaded, you will rock out, you will head-bang and you will, during most tracks, be in awe. This album is, put simply, a package of surprisingly good songs. If you have not heard of Jason Bieler, I strongly recommend that you give the Baron and his Orchestra a listen. You won’t be disappointed – call it a nice surprise.
Released on April 14th, 2023
Order here: https://jasonbieler.bandcamp.com/album/postcards-from-the-asylum
5. Birds Of Prey
6. Flying Monkeys
7. Sic Riff
8. The Depths
9. Beneath The Waves
10. Sweet Eliza
11. 9981 Dark
12. Feels Just Like Love
13. Bear Sedatives
14. Deep Blue
15. Human Head