by Geoff Bailie
When my review copy of Pattern-Seeking Animals’ new album, Spooky Action at a Distance, arrived I did a bit of a double take – could this really be album #4 … in how many years??? Well the debut album came out in 2019, followed up in 2020 and 2022 – quite a work rate! So the question was… with that kind of work rate will they scale new heights or be going over old ground?
Well the stated intention of main writer John Boegehold was to shift gears and explore new areas. Recording, mixing and mastering took place at a new studio and a new engineer was involved. Of course if you’re familiar with the previous 3 albums you’ll know they’re not a band that sticks to a particular styles for too long, and be assured that the new album doesn’t drift for too far from what came before, but explores some new avenues which keep things fresh.
“The Man Made of Stone” gets things underway with a lively kick – the tale of a defeated Norse king, it’s a rich tale told with a backdrop featuring a variety of sounds and instrumentation including a prominent cello line, and chugging mandolins. Of course, you have Ted Leonard’s signature vocals and melodic guitar soloing – Ted’s chops continue to be at the top of their game, especially for someone primarily known as a vocalist.
Dave Meros’s bass opens “Window to the World” which has light reggae-beat elements which bring Stewart Copeland to mind. PSA returned the Meros / Keegan rhythm section to us after the Spock’s Beard line-up fluctuations and that’s a great thing, particularly on songs like this one. PSA’s lyrics are, for me, one of their key features – much of prog is shred-heavy with less attention paid to words. But PSA have always maintained interesting lyrical concepts and storytelling, which makes it worthwhile to indulge in the meanings. That’s completely the case for the tragic tale of “Underneath The Orphan Moon,” as a pregnant girl leaves her family home. The strings (present on many songs) add additional drama to this particular track, and lead us to perhaps the stand out guitar solo of the album – go Ted!
The drama of that track gives way to the proggier “Clouds That Never Rain.” A mellotron choir welcomes into the song’s opening, and the backing vocals in this track are really stand out, as they chant the song’s title. A familiar track follows, as a PSA version of “Bulletproof,” from the bonus disc of Spock’s Beard’s Noise Floor album, brings a jazzier spin to this particular song. The reinstatement of the track is welcome and, of course, contains the line that resulted in the band reviewing its name!
While not drifting into prog epic territory, “Somewhere North of Nowhere” is almost 7 minutes long, and comes to life with a complex opening section, eschewing more comfortable time signatures. The song is written from the perspective of some who is (or believes they are) being hunted by aliens and it’s a great mini drama in music and lyrics. “Summoned From Afar” follows with some ethereal backing vocals – it’s probably the only track I struggled with on the album as the breadth of styles and sounds it covers in its 7 minutes left me a bit dizzy by the end! I’m expecting it will be a grower!
The final track “Love Is Still The Light” is, for me, a case of saving the best til last. Ted is right up in his register and Jimmy balances a beautiful light rhythmic touch, with powerful playing when needed. When we get to the chorus, it’s an epic song along declaring: “Love is still the answer, love is still the light”. As with all of the album John Boegehold’s keyboard textures are the key to the PSA sound, with a great harsichord tone in the opening section expanding to more orchestral tones as the song evolves.
My past experience of PSA albums is that the music bears repeated listenings and indeed many of my favourite PSA songs aren’t necessarily the ones that impacted me on early listens. If they’re a band whose music you’ve enjoyed before, you should definitely check this one out. If you’ve perhaps written them off as a Spock’s Beard spin off, then give Spooky Action at a Distance a go. It shows the band has continued carving out their own sound and style.
Pre-order Spooky Action at a Distance here:
The Man Made of Stone
Window to the World
What Awaits Me
He Once Was
Underneath the Orphan Moon
Clouds That Never Rain
Somewhere North of Nowhere
Summoned from Afar
Love Is Still the Light
There Goes My Baby
Orphans of the Universe (Live at ProgStock 2022)
Elegant Vampires (Live at ProgStock 2022)
Time Has a Way (Live at ProgStock 2022)*
*CD & Digital album only