New Album Review #2: Spock’s Beard – Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep (2013)
Spock’s Beard, the American band with the most catchy/clever/lame name, has been prog-rocking it out all over the world for over 20 years now. However, especially after the departure of their main songwriter (Christian-)prog-icon Neal Morse, they were or maybe still are struggling make ends meet, both financially and musically. With the help of outside songwriters they continued to release new albums on a regular basis, but failed to maintain the momentum and success of previous works. Before the making of this album their singer and drummer Nick D’Virgilio left the band to pursue a more lucrative job, but the band quickly filled the vacancy with their tour drummer Jimmy Keegan and Enchant-singer Ted Leonard.
This album, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, has been crowd-funded via Indigogo, which might be the best way for Spock’s Beard to raise money, since they have a lot of hardcore fans that are willing to pay in advance.
But will this album be any different than the previous? I personally love many of the early albums and some songs of the newer ones, but I really don’t want them to be rehashing anything for the sake of pleasing the fans. Progressive music for me is about innovation and creativity, and to be surprised and overwhelmed. Well, let’s see.
I won’t go into that much detail as in my Steven Wilson review, because this album has almost 90 minutes of music on it (with the bonus CD), so there’s definitely some a lot of bang for the buck on here.
Hiding Out is a decent opener. Between heavy guitars, pounding drums, virtuous solos and odd meters, the new singer Ted Leonard showcases his mellow and ‘beautiful’ voice in the softer verses. A rather fresh mixture of old and new. (8/10)
The fast-paced I Know Your Secret is a good follow-up to Hiding Out, but might just a be bit too long, sticking to that speedy rhythm a little too much. (7/10)
A Treasure Abandoned‘s is a bit too pop-ish for me, even though there’s a odd meter and interesting instrumentation happening. The acoustic guitar breakdown and return is a typical Beard thing and just seems tacked on to a 4 minute song. (5/10)
Even with its rather mellow beginning Submerged escalates in a big chorus which melody is not really to my taste , but at least is relatively short with 5 minutes. (6/10)
A more classically Beard-ish approach is Afterthoughts. ‘Crazy’ sounding melodies and a fresh new sounds makes it fun to listen to, but the counterpoint melodies seem just a bit too much like their songs Gibberish, Thoughts and others. However the use of odd meters and the groove they create is so immersive. (8/10)
Something Very Strange is reminds me very much of their previous works hardly without adding something new. The meter changes seem almost random, which is especially obvious right after Afterthoughts. Also, it doesn’t really fit into the dramaturgy of the album. (4/10)
The longest track, Waiting For Me, again is rather reminiscent of their past, very obvious in the harmony/melody interaction. The calm middle section serves as a buffer between the two halves of the song. Again, very typical structure and harmonies for the Beards here, which might be no coincidence since this song has been co-written by ex-member Neal Morse. Anyway, if you’re a fan of that classic Beard style it can be very enjoyable. For me, even though it is a bit too stretched and somehow worn out, it is still very enjoyable. (7/10)
This is the end of the regular version, the bonus disc for me is an add-on which doesn’t fit into the album narrative, if you know what I mean. So I won’t go into any detail here.
Sound & Production
This album features more or less the same sound characteristics as most of the previous albums have. There’s hardly any experimentation going on compared to the master of studio extravaganza Steven Wilson. Here, the focus lies on the performance and songwriting, both of which the production serves. But if you expect a raw and new groundbreaking sound, you might be disappointed.
New singer Ted Leonard does an excellent job of both filling in the part and adding new elements to the overall music, even though I found some of his melodies a bit too much on the pop side. Also, somehow I find his voice more subtle and less prominent than D’Virgilio’s, which for me makes it all more enjoyable.
If you’ve ever heard anything by Spock’s Beard before, you know their vintage-keyboard-flavored sound. I personally love the sound of Hammond Organ, Mellotron, analog synthesizers and piano combined. But again, it’s nothing we never heard before from them. (7/10)
The Final Judgement
Spock’s Beard’s Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep fails to meet my (admittedly high) expectations. Despite being somewhat underwhelming on a progressive level (in the literal meaning of the word) and sometimes stuck in its own past, it is still an entertaining and enjoyable ride for fans of the Beards and lovers of retro-flavored prog rock.
–Further Listening: anything by Spock’s Beard or Neal Morse. The album can buy the album here: http://spocksbeard.bandcamp.com/ Official website: http://spocksbeard.com/