Evolution not revolution…
Released by Inside Out Music on 25 May 2018 and reviewed by Andrew Manning
It is twenty six years since Spock’s Beard originally formed in Los Angeles and without wishing to get too Trekkie (Ed: too late!), the band name originates from the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” where Spock for one time only can be seen with a beard, and that’s where brother’s Neal and Alan Morse got the inspiration. Since forming they have constantly produced music with interesting and complex arrangements that has been embraced by many prog rock aficionados across the globe. The line up may have changed at various stages, including the departure of founder Neal Morse as far back as 2002, but this has had little impact on the loyal underground following they have established who look forward with relish to any new output. For the uninitiated there are a lot of similarities to classic rock bands like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant but it is delivered with a modern flair.
Noise Floor marks studio album number thirteen for the band and what is apparent from the off is that it feels like a more accessible melodic offering. Gone are the long pieces that were a focal point of many of their earlier releases and the listener instead is enticed with a variety of music that really varies from track to track. After so long in the business this is a band who should by now know what works and they have recognised this by creating some powerful and epic tracks which makes the listening experience more immediate.
The running order of any album is always important and they have picked the perfect number to open proceedings. ‘To Breathe Another Day’ is a real straight ahead rocker and should be the ideal track to start any forthcoming gigs in support of the album. With the trademark keyboard sounds of Ryo Okumoto featuring prominently from the start this is a rejuvenation of the classic commercial sounds of the 70’s infused with a refreshing energy. There is a great video to accompany this number which was clearly not a big budget record company funded piece. However it really works by showing what appears to be the individual members performing in their own home environment. Close your eyes for the start of ‘What Becomes Of Me’ and you will be transported off into the world of James Bond. The opening instrumentation would fit perfectly with one of those panoramic trademark opening scenes that will be familiar to all 007 fans. This loosely progressive number then opens up with some bright vocals underpinned by some smooth guitar and rhythmic keyboards.
For Ted Leonard this is the third album as lead vocalist and he continues to indelibly stamp his subtle voice across the songs while still displaying great range and power at the appropriate points. He now makes a greater contribution to the songwriting and one of the albums stand out tracks ‘Somebody’s Home’ has been penned by him. This is a real personal piece inspired by the sad story of his nephew who recently passed away age sixteen who had been brain dead since birth. Just listen to the lyrics to this track which emotionally paint the picture of the heartache that those close to him must have endured as Leonard sings ‘I can hear you but I can’t respond’… The middle section of the track combines moments of delicate guitar playing from Alan Morse before the crescendo builds right up and then down again. Beautiful!
All prog lovers enjoy time signature changes and this comes in abundance on ‘Have We All Gone Crazy Yet’. There are many twists and turns on this song with organic synth soundscapes, vocals truly fitting with the music and some nice heavy guitar distortion culminating in a stirring finale of grand proportions. It is good to see Nick D’Virgilio (drums) return for the recording of this disc having previously left the band in 2011 due to other commitments. He is equally adept at delivering some nice soft drumming as on the mellow sounding ‘So This Is Life’ which has a type of Beatles feel to it with the distorted and harmonised vocals as well as heavier snare work as heard on other tracks. ‘One So Wise’ has keyboards all over the place and demonstrates why Okumoto is such an integral part of the overall sound produced by the band as he plays with an incredible sense of freedom. This is one man who in the live setting is a real spectacle to see and sadly doesn’t receive the plaudits he deserves outside of the band’s loyal fanbase.
It’s time for some musical indulgence on the instrumental ‘Box Of Spiders’ as it weaves its way through all manner of arrangements including some drum fills slightly reminiscent of YYZ by Rush. We finally come full circle to closing number ‘Beginnings’ which is a strange title to end an album with. This is a real smorgasbord with everyone getting the chance to shine from the funky fusion style keyboards to lead vocal contributions from D’Virgilio, Leonard and Morse to some lead guitar playing from Leonard. A real feel good and elevating track to finish off with.
The release is accompanied by a second disc titled ‘Cutting Room Floor’ which presents a further four tracks. This will no doubt appeal to completists but keeping the main album to about 51 minutes is a good move to maintain maximum interest. It could have been a case of filler not killer if these had been interspersed across the Noise Floor disc.
There’s no denying the talent here and fans of this type of progressive USA rock will really enjoy this one. These guys still appear to have plenty left in the locker and if anything this is a more accessible and enjoyable disc than its predecessor The Oblivion Particle.
- To Breathe Another Day
- What Becomes Of Me
- Somebody’s Home
- Have We All Gone Crazy Yet
- So This Is Life
- One So Wise
- Box Of Spiders
Cutting Room Floor EP
- Day’s We’ll Remember
- Armageddon Nervous