Though I own and enjoy all their studio albums, this 2023 offering is my first review of this talented US band, often described as a Spock’s Beard offshoot because of common musicians, a group that just never stuck with me even though I have 4 albums of theirs! Pattern-Seeking Animals have always impressed me with some intricate yet addictive melodies that seem to be the hallmark of their craft. The talent of former Enchant and SB vocalist and guitarist Ted Leonard is literally off the charts, a rather intoxicating duality that leaves a very strong imprint on the material. Bassist extraordinaire Dave Meros is a stalwart four string figure and combined with Jimmy Keegan on the drums, they certainly can be labelled as the dynamic duo. The unheralded keyboardist John Boegenhold remains perhaps the main reason why the incredible melodies have such an understated majesty to them, as his interventions colour the entire spectrum of soundscapes that litter all the tracks throughout their discography.
Immediate impact is achieved on the highly melodic “The Man Made of Stone”, a perfect prog opener as it charms the ear from the get-go, drizzling all the ingredients discussed above with a measured equilibrium and expectant pace. After the amazing voice engrave the verses and the main chorus with conviction, the slithering synths, cello and mellotron interventions elevate the track into celestial heights, imaginative beyond the norm and crowned with a soaring Leonard guitar solo that dances with the orchestral backdrop. Tremendous piece.
Two concise tracks present a more accessible, fun side to the playlist, as the spotlight shines on Leonard’s dazzling vocal intricacies, tick-tock percussive meters, and inspired playing by all involved. “Window to the World” also has a deep bass splurge that shoves this piece along succinctly. That same swirly ‘pattern-seeking’ bass introduces “What Awaits Me” and its ghostly outlook mostly due to the glacial keyboard backdrop, with a leather-lunged vocal and a glittering prize guitar solo from Ted, finished off by a mellotron permeation.
“He Once Was” shows how well some American bands can perform the British prog style, as this 12 minute + epic has an illustrious amount of diversity in the numerous transitions, at times vocally playfully pastoral, then intensely passionate, before unleashing their instrumental dexterity, once again initiated by that carving bass. Stinging synths, shaking guitar riffs and a colossal pulse lead the extended arrangement into glorious imagery, full of mystery and imagination (to quote the earlier Edgar A. Poe) and intoxicating melodic intent. When Leonard reverts to his microphone, the stimulating atmosphere becomes a bucolic sing along that escalates into quite the anthem. Ted whips out his electric guitar and proceeds to slay this dragon aided, and abetted with a textbook sax solo that adds the coup de grace. ‘They are on their way home’.
A return to three shorter tracks, beginning with a more conventional ballad in “Underneath the Orphan Moon”, nothing complicated but expertly assembled with electrifying orchestrations and a huge vocal delivery that convinces without the slightest doubt. Meros underlines it all with his mellifluous bass, assisting Ted into another brief guitar blast and an ornate piano finale. The romping “Clouds That Never Rain” has a quirky feel, with harmony vocals supporting the lead vocal, a few addictive twists and turns that enchant (pun intended), a radio friendly piece that has cleverness and curiosity as the main draws. “Bulletproof” has an original early prog texture at first, with an echoing e-piano leading way, mellotron not far behind, evolving into a very comfortable place, raising the roof on a chorus that veers towards the dramatic.
Mini-epic time arrives back at the orbiting station, “Somewhere North of Nowhere” is another example of how the contrasts can be found within the same piece, as if a duel between two differing places or situations, incorporating instrumental complexity into the basic melodic mix, perhaps showcasing the exact definition which makes this band so interesting. Leonard has always been a fabulous singer but in this ongoing progressive environment, he glitters like gold, intensely compelling even when menacingly dramatic. The fact that he can sparkle on the fretboard is such a massive two-fer. Check out Keegan’s pummeling polyrhythmic display here, a master craftsman indeed. Its companion is the eloquent “Summoned From Afar”, a colossal second salvo that elects to veer into a highly cinematographic vein, where mandolin, mellotron and choir (always a winning combo) take hold of the senses and never let go, through all the dizzying ebb and flow of a poignant story about a war weary combatant who just wants to come home again, a reappearance of a unassuming life of happy comfort , as implied by a playful flute. The mandolin reappears to cavort with the mighty mellotron, waiting for another blistering axe solo to settle the score. These two tracks really impress even the most reticent animal.
A swooning love song to finish off any album will never get a no from this romantic penman! “Love is Still the Night” has all the attributes of a classic tune, interpreted by a plethora of potential balladeers, both professionals and amateurs as it is armed with expressive lyrics, an over-the-top melody, and a pleading vocal for the ages.
4.5 Eerie secluded movements