While everyone knows that many of the other writers here, including AMG Himself, are big prog heads, ol’ Grier is not. Sure, I’m a fan of prog rock pioneers like Pink Floyd and, a decade back, found a soft spot for bands like Dream Theater, but prog rock/metal ain’t my thing. Unless, oddly enough, you are talking about Spock’s Beard. Four years ago, I had the opportunity to review the Californian’s fun-as-fuck The Oblivion Particle but shied away from last year’s Noise Floor. And, as our esteemed Huck N’ Roll mentioned in his review, it was fair to do so. Yet, one day, both Huck and Madam X dropped me a prog record that had my ears perked for all its Spockness. Without knowing upon receiving the promo, Pattern-Seeking Animal is a spin-off project consisting of Spock‘s Ted Leonard (vocals) and Dave Meros (bass), contributing Spock songwriter John Boegehold (playing keys for P-SA), and former Spock drummer Jimmy Keegan.1 This self-titled debut is a Spock’s Beard opus in the making. But Boegehold has been keeping little, secret nuggets to himself and we’re about to find out what they are.
The biggest focus, as Boegehold has suggested in a couple of interviews, is that he wanted each song on this record to have a vocal and instrumental hook that would keep the listener satisfied no matter the track length2 or the song’s mood. There’re for sure classic Spock moments to be found in P-SA.3 There’re ballads, Debbie Downers, upbeat cheese-fests, and ghostly carnival rides. But, P-SA doesn’t wank or fretboarderbate all over the disc. Instead, it focuses on texture and atmosphere, combining the ethereal progressiveness of Spock with a more-approachable and digestible end-product. To some, this record may be a boring mockery to the progressive legacy of Alan Morse and company. To others, this is a fresh approach to the Spock sound that does nothing to hurt its elder sibling’s status as one of the elite. Swallow down those pre-listen judgments, you prog-nostic imbeciles, and enjoy the damn album for what it is.
Spock fans everywhere will get that warm sensation between their legs the moment the opener kicks in. At a little over nine minutes, “No Burden Left to Carry” gently grows, giving every instrument a chance to prove its worth. Need some Boegehold key leads? You got them. Need to hear Meros’ impressive bass work? No problem. Guitar leads and solos? Check. Vocals, both layered in a chorus and singular in verses and transitions? Fuck yeah. This lengthy piece also shows the listener what P-SA intends to do with the rest of the album. It progresses without the wank and delivers conciseness4 focused on memorability and sing-along lyrics.
Not that hooking choruses are altogether new to the current era of Spock5 and, in reality, P-SA is a Spock canvas gently touched by 220-grit sandpaper. “The Same Mistakes Again,” “These Are My Things,” “We Write the Ghost Stories,” and “No One Ever Died and Made Me King” have the catchiest choruses of P-SA. “The Same Mistakes Again” is the opener’s follow-up and slows the pace with ballady passion. “No One Ever Died and Made Me King” has Meros and Boegehold sharing groove-happy leads, with lyrics only the men of Spock would write. “These Are My Things” and “We Write the Ghost Stories” not only have the most memorable choruses on the album, but they are also a couple of the best songs of the record. “We Write the Ghost Stories” finds the boys pushing their songwriting skills into a spooky, ghostly atmosphere that combines Spock with the carnival-shenanigans of Tom Waits and Dream Theater. While it oughta put a sly smirk on your face, “These Are My Things” will have you smiling ear to ear. This song is fucking adorable. It’s cheesy as fuck yet has a feel-good upbeatness that can only work with this style of prog.
In the end, Pattern-Seeking Animals has the same vibe and passion as current Spock’s Beard. That said, the back half of the record is stronger than the front. There’s the heart-breaking ballad (“Falling Away”), upbeat groovers (“These Are My Things” and “We Write the Ghost Stories”), and the two strongest and melodic ditties on the record (“No Land’s Man” and closer “Stars Along the Way”6). Though the front-end has the solid, if not mindblowing, opener and “The Same Mistakes Again,” it also has the forgettable “Orphans of the Universe.” Regardless, Boegehold achieved what he set out to do: release his small collection of melodic pieces with hooks-a-plenty. PS-A is a straight-forward and pleasing record that took me a few spins to appreciate but, once it snared me, it wouldn’t let go.
- So, pretty much everyone but Alan Morse. ↩
- Tracks on this new release range from three to eleven minutes in length. ↩
- I mean, it’s inevitable with this cast of characters. ↩
- If you believe a nine-minute track is concise. ↩
- Hell, when “Bennett Built a Time Machine” comes on, it’s stuck in my head for weeks. ↩
- Seriously, these two songs… gah! ↩