Emerald City Council – Motion Carries (Album Review)

Review of the new album from Emerald City Council – Motion Carries

by Prog Nick

I have great respect for Jake Livgren as a vocalist. From hearing Proto-Kaw’s first album in 2002 to experiencing his various performances at Morsefest, Livgren has, for me, been something of an unsung enigma in Progressive Rock circles. His latest project, Emerald City Council, is the latest example of this.

Formed out of a recording project produced by saxophonist/keyboardist Brent Bristow, the band also features drummer Noah Hungate (son of Toto’s David Hungate), bassist Jeremy Nichols and guitarist Seth Hankerson. Marion University Professor of Music Industry Brandon Goff is also featured on guitar. Bristow, himself a Professor of Music at Arkansas State University-Beebe, wrote the material. Emerald City Council’s first album, ‘Motion Carries’ is the result.

The album includes several guest appearances, including guitar solos from Paul Bielatowicz and Mike Thompson as well as voice-over contributions from actors Jeffery Combs and Steve Rankin.

‘Emerald City’ is, of course, the name of the fictional city in the Land of Oz, and this fantastical element provides a suitable backdrop for the whimsy of the music, which can certainly be categorized as Classic Melodic Progressive Rock.

The album has nine tracks, including 20-minute epic ‘Platforms of Illusion’. Whilst all the tracks are of a high quality, the stand-out is undoubtedly the epic. ‘Realize I -Escape From The Ancient’ is a crunchy and tight instrumental. ‘Realize II – Brutal Camouflage’ unveils Livgren’s stellar vocals in a mid-tempo AOR-flavored format that is pleasing, if a little clichéd in the chorus. ‘Noisy Talking’ has a sturdy groove around which an excellent and intricate melody is woven. ‘Mortal Game’ is not remarkable, but ‘Ice Thinning,’ which is reminiscent of Livgren’s Kansas legacy, most certainly is. ‘Diversion 1’, ‘No Thanks To You’ and ‘Realize III – The Comfort Of Suffering’ are all excellent in their various Melodic Prog ways, but ‘Platforms of Illusion’ – all 20 minutes of it – is the pinnacle of the album. Starting with an exquisite Tudor melody, it soon evolves into a master-class in 7/8 timing and all sorts of majesty and mayhem follows. Simply excellent.

Multi-award winning producer Jamie Tate mixed and mastered the album, and Thomas Ewerhard has provided suitably Proggy cover artwork that accords with the ideas behind the compositions. The album boasts a highly varied range of themes, with each song telling a different story. The production is in the main very good, though I did find issue with some of the high guitar volumes and sampled snare sounds – a very small price to pay for such compositional and performance excellence.

It has to be said that the album does in several places exhibit some melodic prog clichés, though I for one, do not have a problem with that. After all, what would Melodic Prog be if it did not harken back to its influences and forefathers? ‘Motion Carries’ is a highly accomplished first album. With its detailed compositions, stellar performances and varied lyrical content, it is an album that will not be ignored. On the contrary, it could become essential listening for anyone seeking a profound and varied Melodic Prog adventure. This album, simply put, does not sound like a debut. It is mature and accomplished and cannot be faulted for a few generic influences. It is quite obviously a labor of love from some highly accomplished musicians.

Released on January 19, 2024
Listen/Order here: https://emeraldcitycouncil.bandcamp.com/album/motion-carries

1. Realize I – Escape from the Ancient (4:56)
2. Realize II – Brutal Camouflage (4:59)
3. Noisy Talking (4:46)
4. Mortal Game (6:16)
5. Ice Thinning (5:22)
6. Platforms of Illusion (20:35) :
– i. Connection
– ii. Best Life
– iii. Comments
– iv. Identity
– v. Revelation
– vi. Best Life (reprise)
7. Diversion 1 (3:00)
8. No Thanks to You (4:32)
9. Realize III – The Comfort of Suffering (6:15)

Total Time 60:41

Jake Livgren / lead & backing vocals, keyboards
Noah Hungate / drums
Jeremy Nichols / bass
Seth Hankerson / guitar
Brent Bristow / saxophones, keyboards, recorder, guitar, vocals

Brandon Goff / lead guitar (1,4)
Paul Bielatowicz / guitar solos (3)
Jeffrey Combs / narration (1), acoustic guitar (7)
Steve Rankin / acoustic guitar, guitar solo & mandolin (all 7)
Mike Thompson / guitar solo (8)
Phillip Moore / acoustic guitar (2)
Heather Bristow / additional vocals (2,4)
Douglas Case / additional guitar & backing vocals (3)
Calvin Barnes / acoustic guitar (6,9)

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