by Prog Nick
What a great start to the year – especially for melodic Prog. For anyone starved of classic, symphonic Prog with melodies and and hooks galore, any release by any associate of The Neal Morse Band is Manna from Heaven. Keyboardist Bill Hubauer’s ‘side project’, We Came From Space (WCFS), has, since 2013, been the one that most harkens back to the best days of Styx, Kansas and ELO, only with a contemporary Prog feel and production. With two well-received prior releases under their belt, WCFS now release ‘Overlords’ – a full length studio album that, whilst not a concept album per se, certainly contains songs with loosely connected themes such as social control, big tech, political constraint and artificial intelligence. With music and themes like this, ‘Overlords’ is a big leap forward for the band.
Comprising Hubauer on keyboards, guitar, and vocals, Dave Buzard on guitar and vocals, Dave Hawk on bass and vocals and Tim Malone on drums, WCFS have, in ‘Overlords’, produced a statement that the best type of music that was shared by these childhood friends in their formative years, is far from dead. A three-song EP was released by the band as a temporary stop-gap during Lockdown in 2020, and two of those songs have been included on ‘Overlords’.
The album starts in typically symphonic fashion with an intro to the title song that could be the soundtrack of the latest George Lucas film. It progresses from there into ‘some happy chords for the overlords’. It has a fairly innocuous and jolly verse melody to begin with, with pop hooks aplenty and a fairly straightforward feel. But some four minutes in, the innocuous texture is abandoned forever with the introduction of a chunky guitar riff that lifts the song to a higher level. There are good-natured nods to Kansas all over the song (other than the absence of violin), but this is done in the most respectful and constructive fashion, and the scene is well set for some Prog-pop exploits of the highest order. It must be observed that these boys obviously enjoy levity and humour, and that fact shines through in the performance of the songs. It’s not all serious thematic delivery – there is much quirkiness and conviviality and Hubauer’s and Buzard’s tongues are often to be found firmly in their cheeks.
‘On the Radio’ really gets the album flying on a higher plane. It begins with a 1940’s radio voice-over that gives way to a classic Prog-pop exposition of immense proportions. There is even some Buggles to be heard. Once the Honky-tonk/Ragtime proclivities and the verse and chorus are ushered out by another voice-over, an expansive and spacious instrumental meander takes place. It is (in the words of the voice-over) a ‘wonderful thing’. This song sets a scene of greater expectation than some might have held for WCFS until now. These guys are no re-united schoolboy garage band. Far from it – powerful, intellectual and musical, this song is as good as anything you have recently heard from (those) biggest names in American Progressive Pop.
‘Empty Space’ is a straight-ahead solid ballad that focuses on the many and varied vocal skills in the band. Smooth and slick, this is very pleasing, and Hubauer is at his tasteful best during the piano solo. ‘She’s the Bomb’ is a bit of jovial Reggae-pop that is also a driving rocker with a bounce that will make you feel like you are in a speedboat on the open Caribbean – until the Proggy stabs and and vocal counterpoints morph it into back into expected Prog waters.
My personal favorite track on the album is ‘Atomic Blues’ – a wonderful instrumental exposition in 6/8 timing, showing what can be done when four highly competent Proggers decide to explore 21st Century Blues with no restrictions. Absolutely fantastic, this one will have you nodding your head, strumming your air guitar and swiping at imaginary keys. This is a sublime and brilliant instrumental that will impress even the most demanding fans of, say, Steely Dan in their ‘Aja’ phase.
‘Reputation’ is straight-ahead 70’s Rock, sung by Buzard, complete with cowbell and snare drum flams. Adequate though it is, it sounds somewhat incongruous on the album, since it is more reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult or Cheap Trick than of Styx. The lyrical references to ‘going solo’ are a bit twee, and the arrangement sounds a little dated.
All is resolved in the final three songs, where Hubauer firmly takes control of the vocal mic, and the band dutifully steps in to provide the best possible musical backdrop to this maestro. It is immensely pleasing to hear Hubauer’s sweet vocal stylings again. ‘Silent Letters’ is a heartfelt ballad with a big beat from Hawk and Malone, and Buzard’s lead solo in this song is particularly good. The keyboard intro to the brilliant ‘Facade’ (one of the tracks taken from the EP) is one of the high points on the album, which by now soars like the Starship Enterprise. With a celestial feel, this song is a clear harbinger of the great things that are to come from this band – Styx and Kansas would indeed be proud.
Closing track ‘Sieze the Day’ (a familiar refrain in Prog circles) continues the excellence. It ends the album in a fashion that suitably consolidates all the band’s strengths, including outstanding songwriting, stellar instrumental performances and engaging vocal hooks. If you have not yet heard this song from the 2020 EP release, rest assured that you will love it; somehow the song sounds better in its context as the closing track of this fine album, even than it did on the EP.
For the first time since the band’s inception, We Came From Space intend to tour their latest album. This is as it should be – such is the album’s quality. With excellent production values, ‘Overlords’ is in places bright and breezy, and in others driving and insistent. But it is always Irrepressible and (for the most part) highly consistent.
Diverse in its influences, brilliant in its composition and exceptional in its execution, you should definitely investigate ‘Overlords’ if stylish melodic Prog is your thing. If there was ever any doubt about this, now there is none – We Came From Space is no afterthought. All hail the new princes of Prog-pop.
Out Digitally on Feb 3rd, 2023.
1. Overlords (10:45)
2. On the Radio (7:33)
3. Empty Space (5:06)
4. She’s the Bomb/Atomic Blues (10:39)
5. Reputation (5:32)
6. Silent Letters (5:12)
7. Facade (4:56)
8. Seize the Day (9:19)
Bill Hubauer – Keyboards, Guitar, Lead and BGV
Dave Buzard – Guitar, Lead and BGV
Dave Hawk – Bass Guitar, Lead and BGV
Tim Malone – Drums and Percussion