Pressing Concerns: Writhing Squares, ‘Chart for the Solution’

Release date: March 26th
Record label: Trouble in Mind
Genre: Space rock, psychedelic prog rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Geisterwaltz

If phrases like “space rock odyssey”, “modern prog rock double LP”, and “psychedelic saxophone” pique your interest, then this Pressing Concerns is for you. Chart for the Solution earns all these descriptors, and more, over its 71-minute interstellar voyage. Writhing Squares seem to be aware that, if they’re going to lay down an album that shoots for the moon (so to speak), then they’d better come prepared with a capable toolbox. That’s no problem for the Philadelphia duo, made up of Daniel Provenzan (vocals, bass, and percussion) and Kevin Nickles (vocals and all the other instruments, more or less), who have plenty of tricks up their collective sleeves.  Chart for the Solution is a sonic battlefield of saxophones, clarinets, synth blasts, flutes, harmonica, and roaring vocals that doesn’t stop its turrets from firing for nearly the entirety of its two records.

We’re thrown right in the thick of it from the very beginning of the album. Opener “Rogue Moon” is, in its first half, a motorik welcoming into Chart for the Solution’s terror-dome that then resolves into ambient weightlessness for the second part of its 11-minute runtime. After that, we get into what I think of as the “otherworldly hit singles” portion of the album. “Geisterwaltz” has saxophone squalls punctuating a memorably psychedelic swirling riff. The brass on “Ganymede” is a bit friendlier—is there an E Street on any of the moons of Jupiter?—but its breakneck tempo and growling vocals turn it into a rather aggressive dancefloor number. “The Abyss Is Never Brighter” speeds by in under three minutes, led by distorted bass playing from Provenzano and a flute-based assault from Nickles. The latter theatrically savors the titular line and the rest of the song’s refrain, which sets up the album’s theme of apocalyptic concern—or, perhaps, a lack of concern.

Chart for the Solution is an album that probes the outer reaches, and it doesn’t flinch from giving the bad news to us mere mortals. “The Library” isn’t musically divergent from the songs before it, but it stands alone as a spoken word piece, with a narrator that sounds like some sort of cosmic horror nature documentarian. Under a tick-tocking rhythm section, he emotionlessly imparts “I suspect that the human species is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure” (The “library” here is the Universe; like any good prog album, you have to learn some new terminology). “NFU” is on its surface pretty similar to the bite-sized warped garage-psych nuggets of the album’s first side, but Dan Balcer’s piercing harmonica helps the instrumental bubble over into one of the most overwhelming, cacophonic moments on Chart for the Solution. And then there’s “The Pillars”.

Like “Rogue Moon” before it, “The Pillars” uses synths to build towards its epic length, and like the opening track, it also devolves into formlessness in its second half. However, while “Rogue Moon” is frantic from the get-go, the 19-minute “Pillars” takes its sweet time getting there. Despite its absurd length (it apparently takes up all of the physical album’s Side Three), it’s one of the musically simpler songs on Chart for the Solution, letting the synths do most of the work. This opens up room for some of the most memorable vocal moments on the album. “The Earth was destined for fire! Salvation: a funeral pyre!” bellows Nickels from the middle of the brimstone fury, before the dread-inducing industrial soundtrack of the song’s second half kicks in.

The album ends with an eight-minute victory lap instrumental “Epilogue”, giving the listener time to reflect on what, exactly, they just went through. Making a direct comparison for where Writhing Squares have landed (or, not landed at all) with Chart for the Solution is pretty tricky. The most obvious one is classic progressive rock like King Crimson, but there’s also a post-punk aggression that for myriad reasons you just don’t usually hear on albums like this. Bands like Upper Wilds might have the same cosmic aural assault, Trouble in Mind labelmates Sunwatchers similarly pull brass and other jazz sensibilities into this kind of rock music, and the Terry Gross album from earlier this year operates in the same lofty stratosphere of ten-plus minute song lengths. But all of this rolled into one package? Writhing Squares are on their own planet. (Bandcamp link)

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