- Distinctive Modern Edge
In a country that seems mostly oblivious to prog rock, Los Angeles based Johannes Luley has managed to piece together a group of quality musicians bonding under a sound that is distinctively modern without ignoring where prog has come along the way. The band is Perfect Beings, and their debut record of the same name has certainly created a nice stir in the community, ranking high among the 2014 prog releases on progarchives and coming as highly recommended by many. With the vision to pay homage to traditional prog while injecting a fresh sense of melody and lyrics, the Moth Vellum founder along with Ryan Hurtgen have certainly made an album that spans a broad musical palette. Out of the albums I’ve heard as of late, I definitely see this as a record that apart from appeal to prog fans, has the possibility of appealing to a broader audience of indie and pop fans.
On the catchy side, Perfect beings has a knack for melodies that are simple, modern, and attractive. Several pieces come to mind, such as the opener, “Canyon Hill” and “Walkabout.” Both of these songs scream out the 2010’s with their strong indie leanings. “Canyon Hill” hits that retro/vintage vibe with it’s simple vocal line and repeating keyboard motif before an eventual variation fueled by fuzzy bass and Hammond. ” “Walkabout,” on the other hand, hits the upbeat folk pop direction, which honestly isn’t really my taste, but surprisingly develops into quite an interesting prog piece full of fun bass playing, clever use of atmosphere, and solid melodies. The song is quite a tour of different sounds and moods, going from pop to prog as it presents lots of cool synth bells and pads, nicely layered vocals, and even a brief Howe-esque guitar moment. Overall though, the song has sort of that KScope feel while avoiding the trap of sounding like Perfect Beings is trying to imitate other bands. Also along more poppy-lines would be songs like “Helicopter,” which includes a nice dreamy section in the middle that makes good use of a vocal and piano combination and even breaks out with some Floyd-like chord changes. Lastly, I’d like to make mention of “Program Kid,” a song I feel like I should totally hate but somehow ended up loving everything from the cheesy sci-fi lyrics to the clever use of synthesizer modulation to represent the computer themes embedded within the piece. Finally, perhaps one of the pinnacles of Perfect Beings’ ability to make smart pop is manifest in “Removal of the Identity Chip.” This piece really shows a knack for taking key melodies and developing them from instrument to instrument in an enjoyable game of motif-catch over gorgeous atmosphere that marries the modern elements with guitar parts reminiscent of Howe throughout and a bit of Gilmour at the end.
On the more proggy end are songs like “Bees and Wasps” and “One of Your Kind,” my personal favorites on Perfect Beings’ debut. Fittingly, “Bees and Wasps” begins with a buzzing swarm of insects that molds and shifts into a fantastic intro that is soaked in grippingly dark tension as the piano plays tremolo over brutal chord changes and devastating drum hits. Suddenly the tonality gets less grim and we move into nicely delivered vocals that are catchy and upbeat while maintaining just enough uncertainty as to maintain the seriousness of the intro. The piece grows through instrumental sections where the drummer really opens up and rocks with fills before a haunting vocal processor leads us back into the verse and to an eventual closure featuring a nice bit of tron and a triumphant melody on the vocals. If there’s one thing that really stands out though, it’s Chris Tristam’s constantly musical bass lines that permeate the piece. “One of a Kind,” the final track on the album, perhaps ends up being the most serious of all the songs in terms of music, leaning most towards what the die-hard proggers would expect. With everything from synth solos to classical guitar interludes, this piece really grooves and sings all around. On the guitar end we get loads of melodic interjections that remind me a bit of something off Relayer, there’s also lots of variety on Hurtgen’s guitar playing that can go heavy at times and whisper crystalline swells at other moments. Fliszar’s drumming is powerful, and Tristram’s bass once again cannot be ignored as his fingers walk us all around the neck and provide constant interest. Offering wonderful vocals and an otherwordly atmosphere, it is on this track that Perfect Beings really creates the perfect sythesis of modern music and classic prog as they spin out a song that is clearly 2014 while holding true to the spirit of doing something fresh.
While my level of enjoyment varied somewhat (some moments were admittedly a bit too poppy for me), I must admit that Luley and his collaborators have put together a very solid record that has many moments that really hit the sweet spot. I honestly think that just about everyone will find some aspect of Perfect Beings that will tickle their fancy and get them giggly excited. When the final keys of “One of Your Kind” faded and the album came to a close I certainly couldn’t help but sit back and think, wow, that was really cool. It certainly is nice to know there’s guys in my neck of the woods not only doing prog, but sounding distinct and fresh at that.