Does “third time’s a charm” still hold true if the first and second times were damn good, too? Maybe “hat trick” would be the more appropriate term for Pattern-Seeking Animals’ third release in nearly as many years as they continue their trajectory of exciting, creative, progressive music. Originating from the Spock’s Beard family, P-SA debuted with a fine collection of songs in 2019 from mastermind John Boegehold which were enjoyable but didn’t carve a strong distinction away from the sound of Spock’s “The Oblivion Particle”. However, followup “Prehensile Tales” was a whole ‘nother trip, creating a strong new identity while upping their game in songwriting, musical diversity and instrumentation. It would be hard to match that level of creative spark in the next twelve months. But as the third album comes around (delayed briefly due to understandable circumstances) it appears the sophomore success was no fluke. “Only Passing Through” continues to impress on every level: top-tier musicianship, colorful instrumentation and arrangements, hooks galore, original songwriting and immaculate production.
The band wastes zero time jumping in and getting to the heart of the matter. There’s no languid ambient Pink Floyd atmospheres here. To the contrary, opener “Everdark Mountain”’s immediacy is supremely satisfying and vexing at the same time. It promises to surpass the lead-off track (and one of their best) from their second album, “Raining Hard In Heaven”, but then pulls a surprise by revealing itself to be the shortest P-SA song ever recorded. It’s a rich and potent beginning nonetheless, combining acoustic ukulele with electric power chords, Dave Meros’ distinctive bass, Jimmy Keegan’s thundering hits on his drum kit and Ted Leonard’s truly inspiring vocals. Carrying the impact of a 15-minute epic stuffed into under 3 minutes, one can’t help be impressed, if not a little frustrated in wanting more. Even Leonard’s guitar solo runs under ten seconds but what a ten seconds…the tone, the tone! No matter the brevity, with a total run-time of 60 minutes on the album, there’s plenty more to come.
The crazy thing is that the band excels in three general approaches to song structure: the under-5 minute concise hook-laden rock songs, the 6 – 9 minute mini-epics and finally, the more extended pieces which can run anywhere from 10 – 17 minutes. Their second album proved their mastery of all three categories and “Only Passing Through” unflinchingly continues this tradition.
In the concise category we have the symphonic title track “Only Passing Through” and the gorgeous “Rock Paper Scissors” which carries a nursery-rhyme feel but lyrically deals more with war games than playground games. “Gather let the games begin, He who has the most toys wins, Broken rule remains, Royals reign revolution grows, Hide and seeking destiny, Olly olly oxen free.” As Leonard’s voice careens over-top, “spinning circles” like Steve Walsh on a Kansas classic, the listener comes to the realization that this is a little slice of genius they are experiencing. The title track “Only Passing Through” is more of a ballad, carried by a symphonic arrangement and layered backup vocals.
The short rockers are represented by “Much Ado”, a cleverly written ditty much about nothing (or is it?), and the ridiculously labeled “bonus track” (because it’s way too good for a bonus) “I’m Not Alright”. Both feature crunchy choruses, and both are authored by Leonard to show off his rocker side which works really well in this configuration. Aside from proggy ornamentation, these are rock numbers and better than much of what’s on the radio today. The response backup vocal line on “I’m Not Alright” is especially satisfying, as is Leonard’s brief but impactful guitar solo. We can confidently check off this category of “Radio-ready hit prog rock singles”.
There’s three mini-length songs on the album, each one expertly structured. “I Can’t Stay Here Anymore” is kind of the perfect P-SA song which shows off each member, the power of Keegan’s drums being one of the primary ingredients. “Said The Stranger” holds a steady gallop throughout, even as the terrain travels over various time signatures and a wide array of Boegehold’s keyboards and orchestrations. But it’s in “Here With You With Me” that the band turns a new corner, a majestic ballad that flows into unexpected directions but is utterly charming. Leonard’s vocal entrance is smooth as silk, the harmony arrangements later approaching an almost soul R&B vibe. Electric sitar runs, orchestrated flourishes, Meros’ grounding bass heartbeat, Leonard’s guitar soloing fading out…what a wonderful new world this band and their listeners have entered. Closing the album proper, this is one of the highest peaks yet summited by the Animals.
The album also contains one lengthy epic in “Time Has A Way”. Running over 13-minutes, Boegehold has thrown a bit of everything in here, including one of his favorite motifs: the soundtrack of a spaghetti western. Violins, horns, conga – there’s a lot in the mix aside from your typical 4-piece rock band. It progresses from section to section, seldom looking back musically or lyrically. The border town gunslinger tale carries the listener’s interest for a while but it’s the ending grand choruses and guitar strokes which truly prog out.
Beyond the notable strengths of the band members themselves, P-SA’s secret sauce includes its wide range of influences, the skillful layering of vocals, and the unexpected use of additional instruments. Along with the guest appearances of violins, bassoon, brass and cello, Boegehold himself plays charango, ronrocco, ukulele and vihuela. All of these elements are brought together remarkably well thanks to Boegehold’s production and Rich Mouser’s mix and mastering. As a studio band who are about to take their first steps onto the stage at long last, P-SA were given an initial 3-record contract by Inside Out Music. As far as record contracts go, it has to be said that they’ve hit it out of the park, each album surpassing the previous one. Not only does their contract need to be renewed, this is a band that needs to get into the ears of music lovers everywhere.
Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: April 1st, 2022
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Ted Leonard / Vocals and guitars
- Dave Meros / Bass
- Jimmy Keegan / Drums and backing vocals
- John Boegehold / Synths, keyboards
“Only Passing Through” Track List:
1. Everdark Mountain (2:50)
2. I Can’t Stay Here Any More (6:05)
3. Time Has a Way (13:15)
4. Rock Paper Scissors (5:01)
5. Much Ado (4:49)
6. Only Passing Through (4:19)
7. Said the Stranger (7:08)
8. Here with You with Me (8:07)
It’s hard to believe that in 2018 no one had heard of Pattern-Seeking Animals, considering that 2022 sees three excellent albums having been released under their name. “Only Passing Through” may be the most accomplished of the lot, blending an inspiring array of influences, instrumentation and songwriting. Infused with rock, jazz and world music influences, their arrangements are among the most interesting in the prog world today while remaining entirely engaging and accessible. Ted Leonard, Jimmy Keegan, Dave Meros and mastermind John Boegehold are on the cutting edge of modern prog, they are the Pattern-Seeking Animals