MARCH 30, 2017

THE SEMI-HOLLOW (Review by Mike O’Cull, Independent Music Journalist

Les Robot is a lot to take in. Sure, he's an award-winning rock guitarist (2006 North American
Rock Guitar Competition winner), but is also about as far from the typical rock/shred guitar player as
a man can get. 

His latest release, The Semi-Hollow, is clearly rooted in post-Van Halen technical playing, but the all-instrumental effort is awash with a creative vision that's brash, fearless, and just plain weird in the best way possible. The Canadian guitarist deftly mixes rock, country, cinematic soundscape, electronica, and abstract impressionism into a compelling sound that no one else could.  

The Semi-Hollow is Mr. Robot’s third recording overall, and his first completely without vocals. Still, he is very much a songwriter and composer and that sets him apart from the “riff loud and jam” contingent. The tracks here are almost audio paintings that continually alter tone, mood, style, harmony, and dissonance in a way that makes for a mesmerizing listening experience. Cuts like “Headache Machine” are difficult to describe. Robot plays with ideas that range from common to exotic in the same phrase and fearlessly indulges in shifts in voice and scale that would crumble in lesser hands. He displays influences that run from old school heroes like The Ventures to modern experimental cinema and, somehow, it all comes out making perfect sense.

“Oz” begins with lovely classically-inspired acoustic cascades then shifts into a driving rock groove punctuated with orchestral stabs. The song has a delicious tension to it and could work very well in a high-minded sci-fi or horror film. About half way through, some country influence is added to the melodic mix, which is something Robot does in a more evolved way than most who try. Usually country-informed shred mostly amounts to playing fiddle and steel licks with distortion, but our man Robot seamlessly injects those sounds into his compositions without turning the whole thing into a heavy metal hoedown. Particularly enjoyable is his use of minor second “rub” notes, which are a big part of contemporary country guitar, as a melodic tension-and-release device.

“Bumble B Boogie” does, indeed, boogie, but not in any way you could imagine. The track is an epic display of just about every kind of guitar skill possible, and contains elements of classical, country, Hendrix-style rock, and high-velocity shred. The title track shows Les Robot at his most abstract, throwing color onto the floor like Jackson Pollock and Steve Vai melded into one creative persona.

It's refreshing to discover a player as able as Les Robot who is so willing to eschew the usual trappings of rock guitar in favor of a much more daring, experimental, and artistic approach. He possesses the high-wire creative guts of a Jeff Beck or a Frank Zappa and the equivalent skill set to turn it all into something individualistic and listenable. Anyone who cares at all about the evolution of rock guitar needs to have Les Robot on the ol’ radar screen. You won't be sorry.

march 25, 2017


I know I’m always searching for music that is pushing new boundaries, testing the limits, fusing disparate threads into new forms and making truly creative inroads towards new sonic pastures. Occasionally you find it in the fleeting corners of more conventional songs or as fillers on albums between more commercially viable options. And then you stumble across people such as Les Robot who just go for it with reckless abandon.

It takes a few plays; I’ll give you that. Firstly you get that WTF moment, the thought that this is madness, a suicide note to an unbalanced musician’s career. Then you try to work it out, piece together what is actually going on here, tease apart textures and layers to properly understand it. A post-mortem if you will. Then you start to appreciate it. Then you like it, but you are not sure why. Then you love it. Then you realiZe that this is a work of genius ….and often madness, but it’s pretty much the same thing, right?

I can’t give you labels, but then the best music sits beyond such pigeonholing anyway. Let's start with rock, it's definitely rock, sometimes runaway, joyous, indulgent guitar rock, technically slick and easy to pin down. But more than often it goes way beyond that, it wanders around proggy soundscaping and structures, it blasts through industrial wastelands treading on broken glass and twisted metal, it offers classical interludes and dystopian soundscapes. Sometimes it does all of that within just one song!

I guess the art is not to be pinned down, to subvert expectation and if you thought that you pretty much knew what instrumental rock sounds like, by the time you have navigated the 5 twisting and mercurial tracks offered up here, the rule book will be a smouldering pile of ash, your pre-conceptions will be cowering in the corner and your mind will be truly broadened.

Headache Machine is an industrial slab of jagged edges and warped architecture whilst Oz takes more familiar routes though does so at breakneck speed. Bumble B Boogie often sounds like machines writing a progressive rock album, making musical choices that conform to some sort of cool, internal logic and Imp at times sounds like nothing less than the end of the world. But it is title-track and finale that sums up best how diverse and off the wall Les Robot’s thinking is as deft and delicate acoustic beauty are slowly subsumed by alien sounds and dystopian drama.

I like music that I can’t just hang a sound bite or label on, can’t kick into a well defined generic drawer, music that I didn’t see coming. Well, I didn’t see this coming. I feel like I have been run over by demon-possessed truck, experimented on by extra-terrestrials, have stood on the edge of the end of the universe itself, been attacked by cyborgs and had a music shop collapse on me. What a way to spend a morning. And the weird part is…I can’t wait to do it all again.