When is a Spocks Beard album not a Spocks Beard album? A difficult question, perhaps, when the group features current & former Spock’s Beard members led by long-time contributor (songwriter-producer) John Boegehold. And bear in mind that the album origins are a few tracks John had been working on in early 2018. Oh, and there is also that common goal, same as SB, to produce classic prog music – or as Boegehold puts it: “My goal was to produce music that’s progressive and intricate while keeping things immediate and melodic. Whether a song is four minutes or ten minutes long, I didn’t want more than a few bars go by without some kind of instrumental or vocal hook.” Sounds like SB to me…..
That said, Boegehold does set his stall out to be different: “Pattern-Seeking Animals was a clean slate, so I found myself drawing on a few different musical influences and using some contemporary production ideas and sounds that I probably wouldn’t use with SB for various reasons.” OK, so maybe the proof is in the ear-eye of the beholder-listener, so to speak.
Back to the band formation, and with an album in mind, Boegehold enlisted the talents of Jimmy Keegan (drums & vocals), Ted Leonard (vocals & guitar) & Dave Meros (bass), with Boegehold handling all the synths. Besides producing, Boegehold played and programmed all synths but is quick to point out the team work and the diversity of band roles: “Ted Leonard is the vocalist and main guitarist. Besides his well-known vocal ability, he is an incredibly versatile guitarist. In previous bands he’s tended to take a backseat to other great players so I think a lot of fans will start to hear him in a different light with this album…..One big side benefit of having both Ted and Jimmy in the group is being able to get really creative with vocal parts since they blend so well together.”
So, what exactly is the USP of this band? (hopefully not a USB……geddit?!)
With the close Spock’s Beard association (have I mentioned that yet?), Boegehold wanted to explore different musical avenues with Pattern-Seeking Animals, whether song structure, vocal arrangements, synth sounds or emotional textures. “Pattern-Seeking Animals was a clean slate,” says Boegehold. “So I found myself drawing on a few different musical influences and using some contemporary production ideas and sounds that I probably wouldn’t use with SB for various reasons.”
So what is the album like? The facts are: Ryo Okomoto and Alan Morse are not present on keys/guitar respectively and the vocal combinations are not as obvious. So that means the opener “No Burden Left to Carry” has a different feel. Less in-your-face bombast, if you will. That said, I do get a sense of early Glass Hammer in it (mind you they can be bombastic too!). And I enjoyed the delicate guitar as well as diverse synth sounds, lovely mellotron and organ, including the occasional cod-crumhorn one! In fact the track has a very nice retro feel, a purposeful meander, and is a most satisfying listen overall. So, opening track indeed suggests a new vision and purpose to this band.
“The Same Mistakes Again” has more overtly commercial overtones with an essence of ELO even, reaffirms the more delicate and clever nature of sound they create, and is underpinned by some gorgeous growling bass lines. “Orphans of the Universe” has some lovely, occasionally retro, keyboard sounds and made me think of Mike Varty for some reason. It’s a well created song and for the first time did have a bit of sporadic SB frisson (no bad thing). “No One Ever Died and Made Me King” takes a good blues riff and makes quite a commercial sound out of it. Solid and again well-crafted. “Fall Away” is one of those classic understated power ballads that Toto do so well: seemingly simple, hauntingly catchy but with hidden intricacies. “These Are My Things” has almost English eccentric whimsy circling around its raucous chorus and I am convinced Boegehold has found good use for Wakeman’s old Birotron…….and talking of the playful, the next two tracks, shorter in length, have equal whimsy. “We Write the Ghost Stories” is a quirky waltz (think ‘Dance of the Little Fairies (Sky) written for Jonathan Creek or by St Saens! “No Land’s Man” could have been written by or for the Buggles, such is the style, vibe and content. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing negative in those observations. Whimsy has a great place in top prog when played with clever complexity, as Camel and Genesis fans acknowledge well. Lengthy closer “Stars Along the Way”, however, is a delightful return to solemnity and emotional slowburn epic. And frankly it is worth waiting for – song of the year, anyone?
The band has a definite USP of to utilise retro and occasional whimsy with earworm melodies throughout, encompassed within shorter excursions and longer masterpieces. So, when is a Spocks Beard album not a Spocks Beard album? When it’s a Pattern-Seeking animals album. Spocks who?
As John notes, as the project came into being it quickly became apparent that they would want to take this material out live: “Originally it was intended to be a recording project but as it was coming together we started talking seriously about doing it as a live band. Because of the complexity of a lot of the material, it’ll require an additional musician or two to pull it off live. The plan is to tour as much as possible and to come out with a new album at least once a year. In fact, work on the second album is already well under way.”
I’ll be in the queue to buy my copy, and if they ever reach these shores to play live …….
Track Listing: Pattern-Seeking Animals (58:21)
1 – No Burden Left to Carry (9:38)
2 – The Same Mistakes Again (5:10)
3 – Orphans of the Universe (10:28)
4 – No One Ever Died and Made Me King (3:54)
5 – Fall Away (4:47)
6 – These Are My Things (4:52)
7 – We Write the Ghost Stories (3:22)
8 – No Land’s Man (5:35)
9 – Stars Along the Way (10:20)
John Boegehold (synths, keyboards)
Ted Leonard (vocals & guitar)
Dave Meros (bass)
Jimmy Keegan (drums & vocals)
2019 – Pattern-Seeking Animals