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Spock's Beard - Noise Floor (Album Review)

Monday, 11 June 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Riff for riff, hook for hook, solo for solo and lyric for lyric, the 13th album of Spock’s Beard’s career is a laser guided melodic missile that creates a euphoric explosion of glee that’s impossible to contain. Featuring highly accessible songs affluent with instrumental pizzazz, ‘Noise Floor’ is a prog-rock album for people who hate prog-rock.

It almost goes without saying that a new album from this American group will be accompanied by at least one line-up change. Joining the trio of Alan Morse, Dave Meros and Ryo Okumoto are lead vocalist Ted Leonard (appearing on his third consecutive Beard record) and original drummer Nick D’Virgilio, who returns in a guest capacity following the departure of Jimmy Keegan.

Aiming to imbue ‘Noise Floor’ with the sort of attention-grabbing immediacy past efforts sometimes lacked, there’s no overarching thematic concept or clock-busting epics here.

Instead, we’re treated to infectious standalone songs that are relentlessly inspiring and melodic thanks to a torrent of hooks that recall everyone from Kansas, Styx, ELO, Jethro Tull and the band’s former frontman, Neal Morse.

Storming pomp rocker Breathe Another Day (where Morse and Okumoto trade mesmerising solos like prog’s answer to Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord), the renaissance picking meets Thin Lizzy anthemics of Somebody’s Home and What Becomes Of Me, with its ethereal Beatles-esque chorus, are wonderfully memorable and direct without sacrificing sublime musical performances fans crave.  

The latter, in particular, epitomises this impressive feat before a word is even sung. Beginning with Meros’s peacock proud bass alongside sitar touches and chattering cymbals, Morse and Okumoto conjure a dramatic atmosphere before the song effortlessly dovetails into a philosophical piece of reflective, folky pop.    

It’s not easy to make great progressive music that boasts a broad appeal. Just ask Dream Theater, who struggled to do the same on their 2015 self-titled effort. But Spock’s Beard have succeeded because each track, despite boasting myriad instrumental passages, is tightly crafted, remorselessly tuneful and devoid of eccentric noodling.

This consistent sense of excitement is further enhanced by a steady stream of captivating stylistic flourishes. Dizzyingly contagious and fun-filled, Have We All Gone Crazy Yet melds sparkling folk rock and Queen bombast with a thrillingly unpredictable progressive mid-section.  

So This Is Life, which sounds like a long lost omission from Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, is a tranquil slice of reflective melancholia and Okumoto dazzles on Dream Theater-styled instrumental Box of Spiders, his howling synths and ragtime piano colliding with Morse’s prowling riffs to create a bludgeoning cinematic nightmare.

Offering crystal clear sonics thanks to Rich Mouser’s typically excellent mix, ‘Noise Floor’ – which comes with an equally strong four track bonus EP entitled ‘Cutting Room Floor’ - is a lovingly crafted, classy beast of a record that’s easily the band’s finest post-Neal Morse work, and potentially their strongest full stop. If you’re a prog diehard looking to convert others to the cause, consider ‘Noise Floor’ your weapon of choice.

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