When the first Pattern Seeking Animals album was released last year, such was its beauty that it easily made my albums of the year list. Its mix of style and deep lyrics made it a very worthy album indeed and, when I spoke to John Boegehold he’d remarked that they had already started work on this sophomore release.
Well that was last year and now, just about a year later, comes ‘Prehensile Tales’, the continuation of the Pattern Seeking Animals story, or sub tale really as the folk involved are predominantly the core nucleus of legendary US group Spock’s Beard, with PSA treading a slightly different path musically. It is still prog but PSA exist as a vehicle for material that John has written, but that he feels in not quite within the remit of Spock’s Beard.
At time of writing this does not mean the end of The Beard, it just means a further outlet is available to John, which I am sure you will agree is a good thing for listeners as, when that material is as fine as this, then there is really no issue, let’s just be grateful for this music.
We find a range of subjects tackled in these songs from finding a second chance in your life, vampires, shipwrecks and facing mortality. Another difference this time around is the wider musical palette that is employed to add more colours and timbre to the tones, these include violin, flutes, piccolo, trumpet, flugelhorn and cello along with saxophone and pedal steel guitars. This makes for an interesting and richly rewarding listen, although, as always, you will have to listen carefully for the magic to unfold around you.
The production by fellow bearder Rich Mouser is crisp and clear with clear separation of instrumentation across all the tracks, likewise the cover art is also highly arresting and intriguing,
The album starts with the Dave Meros rumbling bass on Raining Hard In Heaven this is interspersed with snatches of guitar from Ted Leonard, all ably supported by the keyboard work of John Boegehold and Jimmy Keegan’s solid drumming. The bass work from Meros is sublime and carries the melody wonderfully before a synth solo takes the song forward into a more upbeat section and then reverting to a quitter more measured pace with classic organ sounds and that bass moving the song forwards once again as it heads towards its satisfying conclusion. A great opener by any standard
This is followed by Here In My Autumn which features a sublime violin from Rini in the latter sections, giving this song a Kansas feel, and I mean that in a good way as this additional colour really adds to the dynamics of the song greatly, as indeed does the excellent piccolo and flute which are also very noticeable. Again, the bass work is of the highest standard and his support and playing is subtle and effective. The guitar break by Leonard yields another elegant and emotional track that really hits the mark. Ted’s vocals on this track are also extraordinarily strong, he really can take these songs and stamp his own identity on them. A second guitar solo takes this song to an epic conclusion in tandem with John’s keyboards.
Another stunning song, and were only at the start really! The next piece is Elegant Vampires which features some terrific drum patters from Jimmy alongside more solid bass from Dave and atmospheric keyboards from John, who plays a recurring motif that runs throughout the song. Another fabulous vocal from Ted carries this short song about the inevitability of death using the metaphor of vampires as symbolism. Again, an interesting song which leads us to one of the more unusual tracks of this set,
Namely, Why Don’t We Run? which features, believe it or not, a mariachi band! The track opens with what sounds like Chinese or oriental brass before an acoustic guitar ushers in the mariachi type sound and it gallops along most effectively. The instrumentation on this song is tremendous, highly evocative, and realistic, an acoustic guitar carrying the melody forwards till at the 3.35 mark the horn returns with its wail and Ted’s guitar takes brief flight. This may all sound very weird yet somehow it works and it all sounds magnificent, possibly my favourite song thus far.
We are then led into the albums longest and most epic song at 17:20 called Lifeboat. It is comprised of 5 parts, the first the first of which is an instrumental section, called Nearer Now To Heaven. It then switches to Ted emotive vocal telling the tale of the people on the lifeboat as the ship is going down, leading to another excellent bass part from Dave who really anchors the track together so that you can feel the despair that the hero is facing in an ocean of uncertainty. A plaintive trumpet voluntary takes the song forwards into Ted’s guitar solo after which the protagonist is pondering his mortality whilst crying out for someone to save him. Finally we are led into the closing section which deals with what happens when you die, in this instance we are left with an open ending to that particular question as the song ends with storms and the noise of oars, a brilliant track by any standards.
The album’s final track Soon But Not Today then follows with a musical mystery tour taking in reggae, surf and the Beatles in the tale of a man who gets chance to reassess his life and hopefully make changes to how he leaves the world. Again this song is concerned with one’s mortality and in this song we see just how solidly this band work as one to deliver stunning song after stunning song.
I loved the debut album and, guess what? I love this one too! ‘Prehensile Tales’ is very accomplished and engaging and a great piece of work that will make you glad that you heard it, I really recommend this to you all, it is really really fine piece of music.
Released 15th May 2020
Order the album here: