|Spock’s Beard — Noise Floor (25th May, 2018)|
Spock’s Beard — Noise Floor (25th May, 2018) ≡∩≡ Spock’s Beard announce their 13th studio album “Noise Floor” to be released on May 25, 2018.
≡∩≡ Ted Leonard, Alan Morse, Dave Meros & Ryo Okumoto are joined in the studio once again by drummer & original member Nick D’Virgilio, who records his first album with the band since 2010’s ‘X’.
≡∩≡ “We are always about evolution, not revolution. But what we have done this time is make the songs more melodic,” believes vocalist/guitarist Ted Leonard. “We still love our crazy prog, but now appreciate how important it is to grab people’s attention early on.”
≡∩≡ As with all Spock’s Beard songs, most of the new album was written by the individual members, and then brought to the rest of the band as high quality demos. “We all do this type of thing in our home studios,” adds Leonard. “So, by the time they reach the stage where the entire band get to judge them, they are really developed, and therefore everyone can make a reasoned judgement.”
≡∩≡ The album was once again engineered by long~time collaborator Rich Mouser and will be released as a 2CD digipak (featuring an EP of material from the same sessions), gatefold 2LP + 2CD & as digital download.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Album release: 25th May, 2018
Record Label: InsideOutMusic
Duration: 51:53 + 17:06 => 68:59
CD1: Noise Floor
01. To Breathe Another Day 5:38
02. What Becomes Of Me 6:11
03. Somebody’s Home 6:32
04. Have We All Gone Crazy Yet 8:06
05. So This Is Life 5:35
06. One So Wise 6:57
07. Box Of Spiders 5:28
08. Beginnings 7:25
CD2: Cutting Room Floor
01. Days We’ll Remember 4:14
02. Bulletproof 4:41
03. Vault 4:39
04. Armageddon Nervous 3:32
℗ 2018 InsideOutMusic
≡∩≡ Ted Leonard / Vocals, Guitars
≡∩≡ Alan Morse / Guitars, Vocals
≡∩≡ Ryo Okumoto / Keyboards
≡∩≡ Dave Meros / Bass, Vocals
≡∩≡ Nick D’Virgilio / Drums, Vocals
By SCOTT MEDINA April 24, 2018 ; Score: 9.1 EXCELLENT
≡∩≡ Have pity on Thomas Waber. As head of the InsideOut Music record label which is releasing Spock’s Beard’s new album, Thomas reportedly had the unenviable job of choosing which songs made the cut for the main disc of the new album and which ones were relegated to the “cutting room floor” bonus EP. Unfortunately for Thomas, out of the dozen songs which were vying for attention, nary a one of them was a dud or stuck out like a sore thumb to get nixed from the main album. Happily, Thomas’ burden is our gain, and ultimately becomes irrelevant because all versions of the new Spock’s release includes the bonus EP. All twelve gems will be yours and you won’t want to miss a single one.
≡∩≡ Noise Floor is album number three for Spock’s 3.0, referring to the third incarnation of the band with a new lead singer. Following the departures of Neal Morse and Nick D’Virgilio as the previous front men, Ted Leonard confidently took the reins with the tour de~force Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep in 2013. Fans of that album will find much to love on this new release, too. Indeed, Ted continues to be the star of the show, which is quite a feat given his predecessors and the stellar musicianship provided by this seasoned band. However, the personnel features one prominent shift from the two previous albums: drummer and backing vocalist Jimmy Keegan is absent. Big shoes to fill indeed, and the only logical solution (to quip the band’s namesake) is to return to their roots and bring original member Nick D’Virgilio back to the drummer’s seat. Sadly, Nick’s current schedule does not allow him the possibility of officially being a full~time member of the band (and he most likely will not be able to tour with them in the near future), but you wouldn’t know it from listening to his performance on this album. As usual, he goes all out and returns to the Spock’s fold seamlessly. It’s the first album on which Ted has fronted the band with Nick manning the drum kit, but feels as natural as if this had always been the lineup.
≡∩≡ Unsurprisingly, the production throughout is immaculate thanks to long~time engineer Rich Mouser and the collective band studio skills. You won’t find a finer sounding band thanks to Rich’s knowledge of the members’ playing style and how to bring out their best performances. Much of the recording was done at Nick’s “day job”, Sweetwater Studios, so they likely had all the toys they could want at their immediate disposal. The songwriting is strong throughout, provided by the band members and their regular contributors John Boegehold and Stan Ausmus. None of the material here may reach the Top 10 Spock’s songs of all time, but they all hover within a good to excellent range which will stay in your active playlist for quite some time. As with most good progressive rock, the album will grow on you with repeated listenings and by spin #4, you’ll be hooked.
≡∩≡ Many fans will have initially heard the first single which opens the album, “To Breathe Another Day”. To those who wonder if the rest of the album follows in a similar style, this punchy rocker is an accessible launching point but also is the least interesting track on the album, musically speaking. Spock’s is much more than a power~chord band and fortunately after this opening salvo, there is a wealth of quirky prog~rock material ahead. “What Becomes of Me” starts heading down that path with Dave Meros’ inimitable bass playing, but it’s not really until the third track, “Somebody’s Home” that the album earnestly starts taking off into Spock’s stratosphere and continues for the rest of the album proper. Ted frequently shines on strong choruses with extended vowels, and this track is a prime example for his vocal chords to stretch out on, as acoustic guitars mix with English horn, violins and cello before the bass and electric guitar reinvent the main theme.
≡∩≡ Next up is one of the highlights of the album, “Have We All Gone Crazy Yet” which employs a classic motif of the Beard: to feature a simple reoccurring theme that deepens with each repetition. Alan Morse shines with his trademark finger~picked electric guitar solos. Although this is the longest song on the album, it clocks in at just over 8 minutes. As far as extended epics go, this album literally comes up a bit short, but there’s no denying that the material is more accessible, very catchy, and still features plenty of the epic prog that the band is known for. “So This is Life” breathes fresh air into the Spock’s Beard catalog, lodging somewhere between Jellyfish and Neil Young. Richly layered with harmony vocals, it also features intoxicating rock star guitar soloing from Alan Morse. This gorgeous ballad would make a surprise left~field contender for a hit single and is one of the sweetest treasures to be found on Noise Floor.
≡∩≡ Back to the classic Spock’s sound, “One So Wise” hits all the right notes and is a progressive rock tour~de~force. The song retains most everything that fans have come to love in the band, including scorching keyboard and guitar solos, and is yet another highlight of the album. Somehow it lacks any memorable chorus whatsoever but that doesn’t stop Ted from wailing like it’s a lost Kansas classic. To find the album’s strongest chorus we need to go to “Bulletproof” which will stay in your head for days. Again, the Jellyfish influence is present in this most triumphant of songs. However, this short single has strangely been relegated to the bonus disc, so it likely won’t be hitting the airwaves anytime soon which is a shame. The same could be said for “Vault” which mixes electric shredding, cascading organ and acoustic riffing for a single~worthy pop/prog song, but it’s apparently not enough to secure a spot on the main album.
≡∩≡ There are two instrumental prog freak~outs on the double disc, though it’s hard to decide which one is more satisfying. Safe to say, the band got a good workout playing with their “Box of Spiders” and bonus track “Armageddon Nervous”. Nick proves that he’s got the chops to be back in the hot seat, and Ryo also particularly comes to the fore on his array of rockin’ keyboards. Leave it to the Beard to end an album with a track called…“Beginnings”. It’s a transcendent finale with an almost “Afterglow” arpeggiation. Ted’s soaring vocals finish the album proper on an uplifting note, Alan’s guitars fading out into the cosmic ether during the final seconds. Wow, what a closer.
≡∩≡ Which returns us to the beginning as well…how to choose which songs are on the “main album” and which are on the “bonus EP”? And why split them up at all, considering that the total run time would easily fit onto one disc, most of the songs are equally strong, and this isn’t a concept album which would demand that the extra tracks be separated from the main concept songs (as on Porcupine Tree’s “The Incident”)? Ultimately, it is likely purely a decision based on flow, the thought being that a shorter, more concise album of 50 minutes will be easier for the average listener to embrace than a sprawling 70 minute single disc. Fair enough. Which brings us back to Thomas who had to decide what goes where…even if the why is somewhat obscured. The simple solution is to leave the “why’s” behind and enjoy all the wonderful music presented. As Spock’s Beard continues to impress after 13 studio albums, happily none of this “Noise” deserves the cutting room floor.
≡∩≡ Result: The Beard get lucky with album #13, continuing their arc as one of contemporary prog~rock’s most celebrated bands. Exquisitely performed and produced, “Noise Floor” features plenty of hooks and ear worms, amidst their usual quirky approach.
• SONGWRITING: 8.5
• MUSICIANSHIP: 10
• ORIGINALITY: 8
• PRODUCTION: 10
JEDD BEAUDOINMAY 1, 2018
≡∩≡ If there’s anything that’s worked against Spock’s Beard over the last twenty~plus years it’s a sense of restraint. Some of the band’s progressive rock contemporaries have chosen solos over songs, but the Spock’s way has always been to underplay its virtuosity. Alan Morse’s lead guitar work in “This Is Life,” for instance, might go largely undetected the first three or four times you hear the song. Your focus, instead, falls on the fine vocal harmonies and the tune’s emotional colors.
≡∩≡ The same may be said for keyboardist Ryo Okomuto’s work. His sense of restraint and taste are legion in progressive rock circles. He has a voice and power that can place him shoulder~to~shoulder with his contemporary Jordan Rudess but it’s not the thing he reaches toward. “Bulletproof,” which on at least one occasion recalls Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” is exemplary of said approach. Okumoto lends warmly emotive piano parts for most of the song, deftly complimenting vocalist Ted Leonard until about the three~minute mark when the synths kick in and carrying listeners on a fantastical journey. (Think a more subtle rendition of the mind~bending synth odyssey of Styx’s “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).”)
≡∩≡ His team player tendencies are on display on the bonus edition instrumental “Armageddon Nervous” and on the blazing album cut “One So Wise.” But in both he’s not trying to outshine Morse or Leonard as much as he’s seeking to elevate them. If it’s all a bit too polite at times, if it gives the listener a sense that Okumoto and his mates (including drummer Nick D’Virgilio who returns after a seven~year absence) are holding something back, then so be it. The music’s better for it.
About Spock’s Beard
≡∩≡ Spock’s Beard began in 1992 when brothers Neal (lead vocals) and Al Morse (guitar) teamed up with drummer Nick D’Virgilio. After self~financing their first album, bassist Dave Meros joined, and The Light was recorded in 1994. Consisting of four lengthy songs, this debut album was well received by progressive rock fans, but received little public acclaim. Ryo Okumoto joined in 1995 to play keyboards. In 1996, The Official Bootleg was released, a live performance containing the entire first album plus one song from the upcoming second album. The same year saw the band sign with various record labels around the world, in addition to releasing Beware of Darkness, which contained the same style of music, but in shorter pieces (all ten minutes or less, except for the 15~plus~minute last track). Spock’s Beard’s third studio album, The Kindness of Strangers, was released at the end of 1997; Day for Night followed in 1999 and V was issued a year later.
≡∩≡ Deciding they had the experience and chops to attempt a concept album, they spent the next few years putting together Snow. The double album revolved around the title character, an albino teenager who could possibly be the Messiah. Taking a much more detailed approach to the material, the band had a difficult two years writing the album and was rewarded with a strong promotional push from Metal Blade Records. Following Snow, Neal Morse became a born~again Christian and left the band. The remaining members quickly regrouped, however, with D’Virgilio assuming lead vocal duties, and managed to release Feel Euphoria the following year. Their first three albums were re~released in 2004, and in 2005 they delivered both the new studio offering Octane and Live in 2005: Gluttons for Punishment. The following year saw the release of the group’s eponymous ninth studio long~player, followed by the aptly named X in 2010. Three years later the band returned with Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, the first outing with new singer Ted Leonard and drummer Jimmy Keegan in place of Nick D’Virgilio. Arriving in 2015, The Oblivion Particle marked the return of D’Virgilio, and in 2017 Spock’s Beard released Snow Live, a complete performance of their acclaimed concept LP featuring the group’s original lineup and current members. ~ David White
|Spock’s Beard — Noise Floor (25th May, 2018)|