Sequels are tricky business. In some cases they work out great, in other cases, they flop. In the music industry, they’re a sure way to sell a film. As long as the first film made some money, making a sequel is pretty much a guaranteed way to bring in a few bucks. In some cases it works out great and adds something to the original. In other cases, it’s just a spin-off, some filler, or ‘another day/adventure in the life of ___________.’ In the music industry, the matter of sequels is a bit more tricky. Even if conceptually a second album has nothing to do with the debut, it is always a sequel, in a sense, given the fact that the music is generally a continuation or a progression of where the last album left off. The same actors, so to say, are still there, playing the same roles, but with new details. However, there is a certain unique threshold when a band conceptually decides to make a tie in. An extreme example would be all of the Ayreon albums which essentially touch on the same universe and more or less wrap around a single narrative. However, perhaps the most daring thing to do is a sequel which no one can take for anything other than a sequel based on the name given being the exact same name as the original, but with a new number added. Yes, you know where this is going. I refer to many albums, but in this case, specifically to Jethro Tull’s effort, Thick as a Brick 2. I would love to hear your feelings about it. Here, as part of Bite-size Prog, I present to you, my utterly biased opinions, with the utmost respect to Mr. Ian Anderson, of course.

Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick 2
 The question of the level of awesomeness of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick 2, unfortunately, and perhaps unjustly has much more to do with the choice of the album title than with the actual quality of the music itself. In other words, the choice of the name Thick as a Brick 2 begs the listener to listen to it in reference to Thick as a Brick, which inevitably forces the comparison between the albums. The result inevitably becomes a matter of, “Is Thick as a Brick 2 worthy of the title, regardless of the thematic connection between the albums?” This is something that each listener will have to figure out on their own.

Honestly, I would love to say that I took this album completely independently of its predecessor. But unfortunately I was not that strong. I could not stop myself from constantly making value judgements on this album based off Thick as a Brick, which I know definitely does not do justice to Thick as a Brick 2. In short, Thick as a Brick 2, in and of itself is good music. It’s a chalk full of good Jethro Tull style folk melodies, witty lyrics, and fantastic flute playing. Plus they make fabulous use of cool little bells, which I’m a sucker for. Between tracks there are poetic narrations that introduce parts of the story. While these are well executed, some fans might be turned off by them, but in the end, it was enjoyable for me and it helped solidify continuity between tracks and between the albums.

How does it hold up to Thick as a Brick?  In short, it doesn’t. All of the energy, dynamic, and magic of Thick as a Brick simply is not present on Thick as a Brick 2. At least I didn’t feel it. Thick as a Brick 2, for the most part, felt pretty slowly paced. The compositions were much more relaxed in dynamic, and I never really felt like they were taking me somewhere track by track. Each song seemed pretty self-contained and by the time the next one came around it felt like you were starting over from square 1. On the other hand, the original Thick as a Brick really felt like it was taking you on a journey; there was a certain fierceness and intensity about it, and by the end you felt like you really went on a great ride.

In the end, Thick as a Brick 2 is a solid album by a band that has long since proved itself. Jethro Tull fans should find it enjoyable, as would most prog fans in general. My only suggestion for all bands out there is to be very careful about naming something after one of your utmost classics.

Soen – Cognitive
 For an album that I enjoyed pretty well, I honestly don’t have a lot to say about Soen. At the risk of being murdered, I will say that it sounds about what you expect it to sound like: a mix of Opeth’s less heavy moments meets Tool. The drumming is very good, as can be expected from former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez, and the songs are catchy, demanding that you nod your head or tap along virtually every moment of the album. Steve DiGiorgio’s bass playing stands out in the mix and is very slappy, giving the band a cool sound. While the music can be heavy, I would say it generally borders on metal rather than actually being metal. If I have one gripe about the album, it’s that although the music was very good throughout, there weren’t any moments that wowed me. Individual tracks didn’t really stand out or hook me in particularly. That said, the music was solid across the board. If you like just popping in an album and having some enjoyable tunes going on without having to have that special epiphanic moment, then you should enjoy this. Pretty solid debut overall, if you ask me.

Outopsya – Fake
Outopsya immediately caught my attention when I heard a sort of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum vibe in their songs. Not to say they sound anything like the aforementioned band; they don’t. However, something about the feel was similar in the way they use heavy drones, creepy textures, and uncanny vocal approaches. Instrumentally, you can expect a lot of electronic stuff from this record. Lots of huge drones, ambient textures, and passages which fall somewhere between synth word music and avant-garde. Trippy, dark, slimy, eerie, and overall really cool, Fake presents a pretty distinct sound to the listener. A word of warning, however; this album requires a lot of patience. Spanning 2 discs, it can be overwhelming and even monotonous at times. Outopsya is not in a hurry to take you anywhere. That said, it’s a good listen, and while it does require some patience I think it will find a very happy home in a number of prog fans’ collections