Here’s the problem with a lot of upstart prog bands – they’re not nearly as deep as they think they are. Any band worth their salt can write ‘technology bad’ and stretch it out for eight minutes, but if there’s nothing behind that that attempts to engage with the subject matter even slightly, it’s pretty much a lost cause. It’s become such a prevalent issue that it really can hamper any expectations when it comes to contemporary prog bands, such is the case with London’s Kyros, though it’s not as if they don’t have some role to play in that themselves. While prog forms the basis of their sound, a lot of the more frequent reference points have been indebted to ‘80s synthpop and The 1975, or in other words, opting for a locus of palatability that still doesn’t deny the inherent inaccessibility that prog has, and fishing to reap the benefits from both sides. Maybe that’s looking too deeply into things, but it’s not like these sorts of tactics are out of the question, nor can the fact that the spectacle of those two butting heads alone serve as a necessary pull-up fact to boon Kyros up if necessary.
It’s disappointing that that’s the sort of caveat that subconsciously gets reverted to, but it’s not like Celexa Dreams is doing much to distance them from that. This is the sort of album that rests uncomfortably deeply in modern prog’s lack of self-awareness about its own self-indulgence, and what comes to pass is a bloated, overweight listen that, even after an hour-long runtime, still fails to make any considerable impact. Add on to that the fact that Kyros’ vaunted selling point also seldom works for them, and Celexa Dreams is a real chore to get through in almost every fashion, particularly for such little overall payoff.
And as such, the conversation has to start at the sound, and how Kyros’ admittedly interesting ideas struggle to find much ground to land upon. On a fundamental level, the combination of prog and glossy ‘80s pop isn’t handled well here, and ends up congealing into a blaring synthwave concoction that sees fit to throw everything to the front of the mix in an almost formless fashion. Yes, the splashy basslines that pop up throughout moments of In Vantablack and various other places are good, but the synth chimes and gated drums aren’t as easy to transpose into this setting; for components that are supposed to drive tight material, throwing them into a setting that’s anything but only dilutes their impact further. It doesn’t help when so much of this album runs long either, even past the two tracks that eclipse the ten-minute mark for reasons they can’t adequately back up. There’s a very real possibility that Phosphene or Two Frames Of Panic could be pared back to avoid dragging as much as they do, and that would ultimately go towards saving what would be at least salvageable parts. It’s why Sentry is probably the best song here, for how it finds a more equable way to blend its influences and not willingly break its banks by overstepping the mark.
Even at its best though, you’d be hard pressed to find much on Celexa Dreams that could pass for catchy or memorable, not only because of an extortionate length but because of a dire lack of chance to let anything stand out. The writing remains pretty basic and unremarkable for one (as one might expect from a prog album with a track titled Technology Killed The Kids), but a loud, lumpen mix rarely lets it all breathe or evolve as it should. Pretty much all negative space is sought to be filled, so much so that an already so-so delivery from vocalist Adam Warne is relegated to a mid-layer, operating as just another sound in a cavernous production job that can’t do anything with what it offers. It reaches a point where any piece of ear-catching technicality or prog acumen are notably few and far between, and that rarely formulates a reference point with Kyros’ sound, let alone anything that actually sticks or encourages repeat listens.
And it would be a lot easier to scold this more righteously if it wasn’t kind of expected. On concept alone, Kyros don’t spark a lot of enthusiasm, and for an interesting musical idea that doesn’t pan out in an entirely expected way, it’s not something to get overly worked up about. It can be said that they appear to be going into this without the prior knowledge of what could make a prog / synthpop fusion work, but for an album like this that likely won’t be remembered too much anyway, the fact that isn’t here isn’t worth docking them further for. If anything it’s what makes Celexa Dreams at least notable, and some credit has to be given for that, at least.
For fans of: Muse, Depeche Mode, Porcupine Tree
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Celexa Dreams’ by Kyros is released on 19th June on White Star Records.