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Pattern-Seeking Animals – Pattern-Seeking Animals (Album Review)

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“Once swept away then pulled back to the fight, just a pattern seeking animal caught up in some grand parade.” These lyrics, sung by Ted Leonard and supported on bass by Dave Meros, were written by John Boegehold for the song “Bulletproof”, which led to inspiring the very name of their new band Pattern-Seeking Animals. In a symbolic twist, however, that song is not on the debut Pattern-Seeking Animals album, but rather comes from a previous Spock’s Beard album. How appropriate, considering that this new band literally is birthed from the Spock’s Beard legacy as well. Pattern-Seeking Animal is a quartet: Leonard, Meros and Boegehold are joined by Jimmy Keegan on drums and vocals, himself a former Spock’s man for well over a decade. For the most part, the only difference between the makeup of the two bands is that Boegehold handles all of the keyboards instead of the usual brilliant mayhem of Ryo Okumoto, and Leonard takes over the guitar duties without the addition of the diabolical Alan Morse. And whereas Spock’s engages at least six different songwriters throughout their albums (including Boegehold), Pattern-Seeking Animals primarily grew out of Boegehold’s own solo songwriting project, with a few additions from Leonard and Meros. Let us also be sure to mention that brilliant mixer mastermind Rich Mouser is behind the console for both bands, which is no small matter. Mouser knows these musicians inside and out and so will likely find similar sonic mixes to best feature their talents, regardless of which band they are playing in.

So, given this extensive list of similarities, what can we expect from this new project? Potentially this could lead to one of three possibilities: 

  1. Pattern-Seeking Animals creates a new sound that takes them in directions uncharted by Spock’s Beard, despite the history of its members. 
  2. They come off more as a lite version of Spock’s…kind of a Spock’s Goatee
  3. They surpass where Spock’s have gone in the past and boldly go where no Beard has gone before, albeit in a similar style.

But before we rush to conclusions and pigeonhole the band with one of these possibilities or others, let’s take a look at the album before us on its own terms without any references or comparisons to Spock’s Beard.

The first song released to the public from the new album was the nearly-ten minute opener “No Burden Left to Carry”. They record label Inside Out Music clearly wanted to make an impression on the prog-loving community with a song of this length, even though the album is filled with shorter, punchy tracks that might have offered more immediate “singles”. Ultimately, this was a wise choice. There are three lengthier songs on the album and they are all far and away the most successful material that P-SA has to offer. “No Burden” starts off their debut in fine form with all four members wasting no time in showing off their skills, and Rich Mouser making sure that each Animal shines brightly. Dave Meros is one of prog’s secret treasures, his bass playing coming to the fore with a tone that would get Squire-approval. It’s a sheer delight hearing the bass played in this way, and when you couple that with Jimmy Keegan’s aggressive and precise attack on his drum kit, it makes for an unstoppable rhythm section that’s worth the price of admission. Boegehold quickly establishes himself as a wizard of the keys, surrounding himself in the mix – and likely in the studio – with a wide array of synths and sounds, some of it adventurous but still rooted in classic organ and Mellotron foundations. It’s not surprising that he has mentioned that in concert they’ll need an additional keys/guitar player to fill out all of the notes that require being covered. Ted Leonard’s fantastic voice is such a sure bet that one can almost take for granted his role in the band, but there are several moments in this song and on the album as a whole where he makes the listener stand up and take note. Leonard also is the sole guitarist in the band which is a welcome treat considering he can deftly pull off that role with the best of them, as anyone who has seen him “fill in” for Roine Stolt in Transatlantic can attest to. Still, Boegehold’s writing brings his layers of keyboards to the fore most of the time, and guitar solos are short in length with Leonard’s playing often being more in a supportive texture role.

“Pattern-Seeking Animals” Album Artwork

“No Burden” establishes all of these pieces solidly, as do the other two mini-epics on the album. “Orphans of the Universe” starts off with a beautiful cascade of layered keyboards, the guitar and synths trading off the melody while being supported by an insistent rhythm section underneath. A welcome feature of this band’s vocal delivery is that Jimmy Keegan is frequently in the mix as a backup vocalist or sometimes even featured front and center, his voice mixing pleasingly with Leonard’s. So, they’ve got that cool vocal thing going for them. Aside from the chorus distractingly calling to mind Queen’s “Princes of the Universe”, “Orphans” succeeds both in its vocal sections as much as its long instrumental passages. The final long song, “Stars Along the Way”, is left to close the album and it’s a perfect match with “No Burden” to bookend the album . A slow tempo epic that takes its time building its grandeur, it adds fretless bass to the mix which is a tasty choice. Again, long instrumental passages are interspersed with beautiful vocal lines sung by Leonard and supported by Keegan. These three extended pieces alone offer a half-hour of material that will likely deliver what many prog fans have come for.

The six shorter songs on the album feature the same tasteful elements of instruments and vocals, but these tools are wielded primarily to tell a concise story. Boegehold builds these songs around the struggles and choices of various main characters, always male, who are never having an easy time of it. The titles pretty much suggest the stories held within: “The Same Mistakes Again”, “No One Ever Died and Made Me King”, “No Land’s Man” and “These Are My Things” (the latter being a more benign version of Steven Wilson’s character in “Index”). Perhaps it’s the relentlessly similar approach of these stories, but overall this collection of shorter songs tends to leave more of a perfunctory impression than an extraordinary one. Sure, there’s plenty of hooks, expert performances and creative arrangements, but they don’t necessarily stick and draw the listener back again and again. Boegehold has written some whopper songs in his past, but the shorter material here falls more into a “solid” category rather than “exceptional”. One standout is “Fall Away” which is a gorgeous ballad of heartbreak and which finds the band exploring new musical territory including a tasteful (but far too short) guitar solo from Leonard. Overall, this debut album as a whole would have benefited from more material like this one that takes chances and walks a road less traveled. Still, much of the material has fun arrangements in store, like the haunted waltz of “We Write the Ghost Stories”.

In conclusion, where does this leave us with the multiple choice of possibilities listed above? For better or worse, it achieves none of those three options but rather d) kind of what you would expect from this group of musicians. That is a blessing given who the members are of this band, but at the same time Pattern-Seeking Animals clearly has not distinguished itself significantly from Spock’s Beard. Aside from the track “Fall Away” most any of these songs could easily have found their way onto a Spock’s album, where they may have ultimately sounded slightly different but probably not too far off. This is likely more due to Boegehold’s writing than any other single factor, as he wrote the bulk of the album. If we look at the Spock’s catalog, “The Oblivion Particle” would be a fair comparison, as Boegehold is credited with more than 50% of the album’s songwriting and those songs (e.g. “A Better Way to Fly”, “To Be Free Again”, “Bennett Built a Time Machine”, etc…) are a similar representation of what we find on P-SA. That’s not necessarily a criticism by any means; this is a strong album with top-notch performances from some of the best players in the prog world, beautifully mixed by Mouser. But without a strong unique identity of their own, it’s hard to say that this doesn’t fall into the category of being a Spock’s off-shoot – which is likely to satisfy most of the Beard‘s followers. Still, Pattern-Seeking Animals has ambitions to tour and release followup albums in the near future, so there is ample room for this talented group to go wherever their muse takes them.
Released by: Inside Out Music

Released Date: July 5th, 2019
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Ted Leonard / Vocals and guitars
  • Dave Meros / Bass
  • Jimmy Keegan / Drums and backing vocals
  • John Boegehold / Synths, keyboards

“Pattern-Seeking Animals” Track-listing:

1 – No Burden Left to Carry
2 – The Same Mistakes Again
3 – Orphans of the Universe
4 – No One Ever Died and Made Me King
5 – Fall Away
6 – These Are My Things
7 – We Write the Ghost Stories
8 – No Land’s Man
9 – Stars Along the Way

8.5 Excellent

New group Pattern-Seeking Animals releases a solid debut of melodic progressive rock, offering a mix of mini-epics and shorter songs. The band holds a strong connection to Spock’s Beard in their membership and sound, and thus are highly recommended to fans of the Beard and beyond.

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 9.5
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