Sound — 10
Stick Men arose out of a period of inactivity for King Crimson players Tony Levin (Chapman Stick) and Pat Mastelotto (acoustic and electronic drums) after the band fell inactive in 2009. Along with Michael Bernier (Chapman Stick), the group created Stick Men to create progressive music with a focus on the use of the Chapman Stick, a typically 10 or 12 stringed instrument played by tapping with both hands allowing the player to play both bass and melody lines simultaneously.
"Soup" became the first effort by this group, and after the opening number's utterances of "Soup... Soup... Supercollider!" it becomes instantly obvious that we are dealing with two Crimson alumni. The sound found on "Soup" lies somewhere in between the intense discipline of 1980's era King Crimson and the more noise/electronic focus found on Crimson's "Thrak" album. Fans of both eras of KC will find something to enjoy here. Due to the nature of playing on the Chapman Sticks (tapping), the music has a much more percussive feel than found on typical guitar focused music. This lends itself well to the twisting turns found within the music itself. Drummer Pat Mastelotto has his hands full with the many twisting time signatures of the pieces, shown early in the album with the "Hands" trilogy.
Despite the percussive aspect of the instrumentation, the group also includes a number of tracks showcasing the more ambient sound that can be created using the Stick, as showcased on "Inside the Red Pyramid" and "Scarlet Wheel." It is simply amazing that this trio of musicians is creating this much sound just from three instruments. Even managing to play the many complex parts of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite."
Lyrics — 8
Much of the music is instrumental, not relying on any vocals. But of the tracks with vocals ("Soup," "Hands Pt.2," "Hands Pt.3," and "Scarlet Wheel"), they're ok. Levin's vocals on "Soup" and "Hands" feature a much more comical tone than Crimson fans may be used to, which is not to say they are bad. In fact, Levin's vocals fit quite nicely with the many moving parts in the background. Michael Bernier sings on "Scarlet Wheel," and again he's no world-class vocalist, but his voice fits the song well and blends with the more atmospheric tone of the song.
Overall Impression — 10
If you are a fan of "Discipline" or "Thrak" era King Crimson, you simply have to check Stick Men out. The opening of "Sasquatch" literally sounds like it could be an extra from "Three of a Perfect Pair," and "Hands Pt.1" instantly calls to mind the heavy thrashing found on KC tracks like "Vroom." The major highlight of the album is the 4-part "Firebird Suite." It is arranged beautifully for the two Chapman Sticks and drums, and manages to showcase the many different sounds that the group can manage all within about 13 minutes. From raucous, percussive energy to sweet serenading ambience and melody lines, Stick Men are a true progressive group.