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SPOCK'S BEARD Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep ratings distribution
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(31%) Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(40%) Good, but non-essential (20%) Collectors/fans only (6%) Poor. Only for completionists (2%)
SPOCK'S BEARD Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep reviews
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SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Neo-Prog and Crossover Teams
The Beard is back! Yep, that's right, just when you thought it was safe to head off to an alternate universe full of Vulcans with goatees, we have the third incarnation of the boys. Gone is Nick D'Virgilio and his mad drumming and his umm... mad singing? I don't know, it was the best that I had at the time. Joining the band on a permanent basis is their previous touring drummer Jimmy Keegan and new to the band is former lead singer of Enchant, Ted Leonard. Rounding out the band is the core of Dave Meros on bass, Alan Morse on guitar and Ryo Okumoto on keyboards.
After Neal Morse left the band in 2002, the writing duties were split among the band with Nick D'Virgilio getting at least partial credit on five songs on each of the next three albums, 'Feel Euphoria', 'Octane' and 'Spock's Beard'. These three albums were somewhat somber albums dominated by the moody voice of D'Virgilio. In 2010, the band was ready to start working on their next album while Di'Virgillio was on tour with Cirque du Soleil. The resulting 'X' was a noticeably lighter and proggier album with D'Virgilio only having a hand in one of the songs. 'Brief Nocturnes and Endless Sleep' is the continuation of that trend, the movement away from the angsty and back towards the type of music and energy that made the band so great in the first place.
'Hiding Out' leads off the album with one of the softest yet most engaging opening lines to date, a gentle rolling piano line that gives you just enough time to appreciate its subtle beauty before the rest of the band slams into the album with a series of hits. Ted Leonard has sole writing credit for this song which strikes me as a bold move for a twenty year old band, 'let's let the newbie start off the new album'. Shoot, Genesis didn't let Ray Wilson in the same studio let alone touch a pen. Jimmy Keegan's drums are mixed a little brighter than D'Virgilio's had been resulting in a tight sound that adds to the new found energy prevalent throughout the album. Dave Meros and Keegan have already had years of experience playing live shows together, as such, there was no loss of cohesion in the rhythm section, they clicked immediately. Another change is the prevalence of the acoustic guitar throughout the album, 'Hiding Out' features a nice strummed guitar on the chorus, giving it a Dream Theater feel at times. Ted Leonard had a tough job here, he had to follow not one, but two of the arguably more known lead singers of the modern prog scene. Not only does he hold his own, but he carves out his own niche adding a warm, vibrant tone that neither of his predecessors had. The band chose a lead singer that can clearly take them to the next level. This is perhaps no more apparent than on 'Submerged'. Mr. Leonard manages to sound at times like Seal, a soulful, breathy voice that commands your attention. Alan Morse gets credit for adding to the soulful feel of the song with a wonderfully timed solo. Congrats guys, this is the best ballad you've ever done.
'Afterthoughts' is the first of two songs that Neal Morse had a hand in, the next chapter in the 'Thoughts' series certainly holds its own in comparison to its predecessors. It's easily the hardest of the trilogy, Leonard delivers a raspy angry voice in the verses as he delivers some of the best lines of the album. 'They all say I'm crazy but I say 'Ha', just like a fox, but with dementia.' We also get a typical Beard call and answer vocal chaos, beautiful.
On the special edition of the album there are two very different versions of 'Something Very Strange'. The album version is all the prog that you could want, tight rhythms, obscure lines, rolling bass lines, Mellotron (yes, Mellotron, I don't want to hear it), Keyboards all over the place and a catchy chorus. The solo section features a great set of tradeoffs between Ryo Okumoto and Alan Morse, absolutely fantastic. The second version is obviously toned down for a single, but remains a catchy rock song. I particularly enjoy the vocorder at the beginning of both versions, it gives the band a modern feel that makes the excessive Mellotron and Organ a little more bearable.
As much as I love the rest of the album, 'Waiting for Me' is the song that Beard fans have been waiting for since Neal Morse left the band. This is a song on par with 'The Light' and 'The End of the Day'. Neal Morse's contribution on this song is pretty easy to see, though it melds beautifully with Leonard's writing style making this one an instant classic. I'm not going to detail this one, just give it a minute to get past the Floydian intro for twelve minutes of bliss. It's an album of bests, this song features the best Alan Morse solo that I've heard followed shortly by another wonderful solo by Ryo.
The other songs are each great in their own right and show a variety of styles and influences. If you listen closely, you can hear snippets reminiscent of Yes, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Ted Leonard and Jimmy Keegan really add a lot of energy to the group, Alan Morse and Dave Meros are their wonderful selves and Ryo is all over the place. If you're a fan of Spock's Beard, if you were disenfranchised by the NDV era, don't miss this one. Truly, the Beard is back, and better than ever. I'm happy to give this album a five star rating.
Many years ago I was at a Marillion concert, and after the gig had finished the usual suspects had got together and there was only one subject that we all wanted to talk about? had everyone heard 'The Light'? For me here was a band taking prog to a brand new level, and I then took every opportunity to see them in concert, rave about their latest releases and was lucky to meet the guys and interview them a few times. Then came the bombshell, Neal had left, even though the band had just recorded what was easily their finest ever album and an absolute prog classic, 'Snow'. But it was okay, they were going to do a Genesis and let the drummer have a go and NDV had a great voice didn't he? Well, 'Octane' wasn't too bad although I did think that they were trying too hard, and then they came to the UK again on tour. First up was CGT who were great, and then it was Enchant who I was really looking forward to as I had been a fan of their music right since the very beginning, and to top it all there was Spock's Beard. I left halfway through SB's set, totally demoralised and to be honest quite upset as well. I had witnessed what to me was a Spock's Beard cover band who just weren't as good as the original. I kept saying to myself that this must have been what it was like when Peter Gabriel left Genesis, but as I didn't start listening to them until 1978 or thereabouts I hadn't been through it myself. I kept trying to like the 'new' SB, but instead found myself much preferring Neal's solo material. Maybe they'll get back together one day I thought?
Then another shock, NDV was leaving SB so tour drummer Jimmy Keegan would get his shot, but what about the singer? Step forward Ted Leonard from Enchant, and I immediately started to take notice. Enchant were a very different band to both Neal-era SB and NDV-era, so what would the new album be like? I actually found myself excited to hear an SB release for the first time since I had played 'Octane'. Now, the album arrived at the same time as the new Neal Morse live album and I couldn't help myself and played that one first, which was a mistake as once it got on the player it was hard to get it off. Then came the time to put on 'Brief Nocturnes..' and I sat back and waited to be impressed.
And boy, was I?! Forget everything you have ever heard by Spock's Beard, here is a brand new band and while I understand why they kept the name after so much history I don't think that there would be much surprise if they had started afresh. This is simply stunning, it is as if bringing in Ted has given everyone a new lease of life and they have just relaxed and let the music flow. Ryo is playing with an incredible sense of freedom and I have never heard him link with Alan the way he does here. Jimmy and Dave just lock in and get down to business with far less in the way of frills than previously, with provides a far firmer foundation for everyone. There has never been any doubt that Ted is a great singer, but here he is also demonstrating more styles and passion than previously.
I never thought that I would be able to say this again, but Spock's Beard have released a five star album: just don't expect it to be the sequel to anything they have done before as they move into a more melodic rock/prog area, with "Submerged" surely destined to be an AOR radio classic! Ted gets a solo credit on one song, while Alan's brother also makes a return on "Waiting For Me". Welcome back guys.
I purchased this album on the day of it's release, and was so taken by it that I wanted to give it extra time to see if my appreciation faded over time. If anything, after twenty or so listens, I like it even more.
Some years back, after losing their leader and main songwriter, Spocks Beard went through a painful rebirth, crafting two well recorded, but ultimately unmemorable albums before regaining their prog footing and adding a heavier sound in 2006.
Now they have lost Nick D'Virgilio, and havent missed a step. If anything, they have gotten better. Adding touring drummer Jimmy Keegan and singer Ted Leonard, already known for his work with Enchant, the Beard has released an album as good as any from the Morse years (Neal Morse did lend a hand in this, assisting with the writing of two tracks, and playing guitar on one of these).
Funky facial hair styles
I like Leonard's vocals much more that D'Virgilio (who has a good singing voice, but sounds too much like an arena rock vocalist for my taste), and even a bit more than Morse. Leonard's voice is similar in tone to Morse, but has more power when it is needed.
The band itself has come up with a blend of Morse's complex style (including those Gentle Giant inspired vocals on Afterthought, an extension of the earlier Thoughts tracks, and often adds a metal edge similar to Dream Theater. Keyboardist Ryo Okumoto and bassist Dave Meros shine on this album like never before. On previous releases, they had their moments, but now they seem to shine on almost every track.
I'm very sorry, NDV, as I admire your talents, but the Beard have really moved up to a new level since you left.
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
Internal complications and line-up shakeups, with possibly even more feelings of starting over and having to prove themselves yet again, but Spock's Beard mk3 is off to a flying start with their new album `Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep'. For their eleventh album, the band have adopted their heaviest rock sound so far, with Dave Meros' pummelling bass loud and proud, Alan Morse's guitar searing and Ryo's super-thick Hammond and Mellotron washes all front and center. This new release could probably also serve as a good crossover album for commercial/mainstream hard rock fans so far unexposed to progressive rock, such is the winning mix of accessible melodic hooks with traditional prog complexity seamlessly woven together.
I was initially very hesitant to get excited over the news of former Enchant vocalist being recruited for the newly vacated vocalist spot. Although I thought they were a very talented band back in the day, Leonard's vocals at the time were so overwrought and histrionic to me, throwing vocal acrobatics over every inch of their music. But I can happily say that he's learned a great deal of restraint and subtlety since then, while still displaying great range and power, and this is to be commended. Longtime associate of the band Jimmy Keegan takes over the drums, and he brings a snappy, attacking virtuosity that reassures all will be just fine with this new line-up.
A stomping beat, heavy grooving guitar riffs, punishing grumbling bass and dirty thick Hammond grind with a confidence of a band fully aware of how damn good they are on opener `Hiding Out'. The catchy chorus surprisingly drops into a more reflective and laid back mood, but it's back and forth to hard rock energy throughout the whole number. Pretty sure Ryo is doing some pretty abusive things to his keyboards in the final two minutes, listen out for it and see if the man needs to be arrested!
`I Know Your Secret' is a funky blistering balls-out rocker, `A Treasure Abandoned' moves through grand weeping Mellotron epic Genesis proggery to surprisingly Red Hot Chili Peppers-like balladry by way of a spiraling psychedelic middle. `Submerged' is a crashing and catchy commercial power ballad, `Afterthoughts' is like Gentle Giant on steroids and beautifully displays the complex vocal arrangements the band always does so well. `Something Very Strange' has bouncy time changes, grinding riffs and lengthy brooding energetic instrumental passages that showcases the strength of this new lineup to superb effect. Anyone who doubted what this new version could achieve will be suitably impressed.
The upbeat power-pop of `Waiting For Me' wraps up the album with trademark Spock's group harmonies over angry Mellotron blasts that attack the listener over and over, a touch of classic Genesis closers `Afterglow' and `Los Endos' to make the fans smile, a boppy and infectious chorus before a stadium-sized bluesy guitar solo from Alan that's up there with his finest solos during `Ghosts of Autumn' from `Feel Euphoria'. You can really near ex-member Neal Morse's hand in this one, and it makes for a terrific finish to the album that has the band reaching for the heavens.
It's too soon to tell just how important this album will be in the long scheme of the Spock's discography. It took a few of the D'Virgilio-led albums to emerge before working out which were the really impressive ones, and this will be no different. But for now the existing band members sound rejuvenated with the new additions, working together and complementing each-other perfectly. So `Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep' (killer overly dramatic proggy title and equally grand cover artwork that looks a knockout on vinyl too!) is all quality material, with really none of the filler that occasionally hampered their last few albums, and instrumental complexity balanced with an approachable melodic edge. It's much more difficult to perfect that balance than you may think, and it just shows how talented Spock's Beard still are. I really hope this run of the band sticks with it and produces even more great results!
A well-deserved four make sure to get one of the special editions for some nice bonus tracks.
I've been passively observing the band's career for the last couple of years. The last decade hasn't exactly been easy on Spock's Beard with the departure of Neal Morse and the three albums that followed (Feel Euphoria, Octane and Spock's Beard) weren't exactly high quality releases by any standard. I remember having really high hopes for the band's self-titled 2006 but was ultimately handed a flawed album experience. The band's 2010 release X was met with some praise in the prog community and even if I did enjoy many of its tracks, the overall feel of the complete Spock's Beard experience was not yet there.
2011 turned out to be another tough year for the band with the departure of their front man Nick D'Virgilio in November, 2011. The remaining trio quickly recruited Ted Leonard as the new lead vocalist and their touring drummer Jimmy Keegan as their two new official members. The new lineup got some help from their former bandmate Neal Morse with writing of their new album and thus Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep finally saw the light of day in April 2013.
I remember enjoying my first run through the album and thinking to myself that this is a much more progressively inclined release than what Spock's Beard have ever released. Even some of their previous highlights like The Light and V had a couple of commercially viable moments while Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep almost entirely invests itself into the progressive rock domain. Ted Leonard penned Submerged is the only composition that might work as a commercial single but even this track has a few nice instrumental/effect moments that make it quite enjoyable for me.
The album truly gets going with Afterthoughts, a track composed by the Morse brothers and Ted Leonard. Most prog fans will recognize the fact that this composition does give quite a few nods to Gentle Giant with classic tracks like Knots and especially On Reflection. Still it's not a blatant ripoff and *upon an afterthought* Afterthoughts does in fact manage to hold its own candle in the memorable songwriting department. The haunting keyboard intro to Something Very Strange reminds me a bit of the Terminator Theme and it really has a very loose connection to the rest of the composition. Luckily, the 7-minutes that follow the intro are a complete bliss and this is really where the new Spock's Beard began to truly win me over with this album!
"Hiding Out" is everything I want from progressive music!
Let's be honest my friends...
This is I think the best studio album Spock's Beard has ever made in their entire musical journey so far. Yes, it's their eleventh album so what? Is it too late? Nope! Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chickend did try to sell his recipee for more than thousan times before he made mega deal. Thomas Alva Edison made thousands of experiments before he finally invented the light bulbs. So, eleventh is not bad at all. As a matter of fact I never paid attention on the progress of this band as I was not that quite impressed with their early releases. When I look at the reviews I wrote for this band, I rarely gave good stars, say four, only some albums. Even though people highly respected Neal Morse as the prime mover of the band I was not quite like his style with SB, to be honest. During his tenure with the band I felt that the music of SB was somewhat being forced to be like it and not coming as a natural musical flow of its own. That's why I did not quite like the albums under Neal Morse era. But when he was out and the band made their eghth effort, Octane, I really loved it and I put four stars rating on this album, especially there was a very wonderful song I really love: Of the Beauty of It All.
NOW...let's have a look this latest album in greater detail...
As I put the heading of this review, "Hiding Out" is everything I want from progressive music. Why? It has fulfilled two things wonderfully: great composition and great individual performance of every single player in the band. Oh man... This is it man! Let's go deeper into this wonderfully crafted track... It starts nice with a melodic piano fills by Ryo Okumoto followed nicely with musical riffs that bring the music into a very enjoyable introduction part where the keyboard work is somewhat like vintage prog music in the vein of ELP or the like. All instruments work really well especially Dave Meros damn great and tight basslines! Hmmm... I like his bass playing style which is quite dominant right here in this track. Alan Morse guitar work is also stunning throughout the intro part. And then the vocal line enters the scene wonderfully. Oh this ex Enchant guy, Ted Leonard, has a vocal quality that really fits Spock's Beard's sound. The music flows dynamically from one segment to another with some shots of keyboard solo as well as guitar solo. Oh yeah.. I almost forgot to mention Jimmy Keegan who plays his drum stool dynamically and it's jaw dropping drumwork. Composition-wise this opening track has everything at its peak: great complexities that do not seem quite obvious as the melody line is really catchy especially when the lyrical verse says something like "I need you now...". Oh man melody really makes me "ngguweblak" (the local language's musical term that I used to put to express the feeling of temporarily parallyzed emotionally as an impact of wonderfully crafted musical composition). Man...this opening travk "Hiding out" is really worth it to own a copy of this album even if you find other track are lousy.
But...it's not the case! The following track "I Know Your Secret" even brings the music into much more dynamic and energetic style starts off with ambient keyboard solo followed with a music that flows in relatively medium tempo to welcome the next faster tempo and upbeat rhythm section backed by tigh basslines by Meros. The vocal enters in rocking style and his voice truly fits with the music. I really love the pace the music flows with rocking vocal style combined with rocking guitar solo and inventive keyboard work. Oh man.. the first two tracks really have made the album! Composition and style wise, this second track reminds me to the great song "Of The Beauty of It All" from Octane. At approximately minute 4:50 the music comes to a break with mellow vocal line backed with mellotron drenched keyboard work. And..at the end of mellow vocal line, Meros brings the music back into fast tempo style with tight basslines and excellent rhythm guitar. It's another wonderfully crafted song really!
" A Treasure Abandoned" provides musical break as the style is now drastically changes to a mellow one. At first time spinning this album actually I was not prepared at all to have this too mellow song positioned right after the first two energetic songs as opener. But it grew on me as I got to know the album better. And now... I really enjoy this melodic song. So is the case with "Submerged" that I first did not enjoy but now I love it as part of this wonderful album. "Afterthoughts" (6:08) brings the music back into more upbeat style even though it's not as rocking as the first two tracks. This one represents the kind of music the band played at their early career especeially on the way the choirs arranged. The choirs are really great and it is quite similar with what Gentle Giant style. Oh.. I really enjoy this track especially during choirs and the following guitar solo and keyboard solo. It's truly a rockin' composition!!! You must try your own experience enjoying this album in its entirety and I bet you would love it to the bone, really!
"Something Very Strange" starts ambient with a windy nuances followed with eastern style sounds. Oh man...the keyboard work that follows the ambient opening and serves as the entry point for the overall music to work together with a back up of mellotron sound are really great overall. The introduction part of this song that consumes approximately three minutes plus of duration before the catchy vocal line enters the scene. Yes, it's a simple melody kind of music and it's catchy afterall but it's quite enjoyable as the song moves dynamically with some musical breaks. I like the way when Ted screams "Something very strange" and then followed with stunning guitar as well as keyboard solo. This song is really excellent!! Oh.. I almost forgot to mention that Dave Meros provides great basslines and melody throughout this excellent composition.
"Waiting For Me" starts mellow with some nuances of of Pink Floyd's "Us and Them" for quite sometimes before it's finally changed to dynamic arrangement demonstrating mellotron, solid basslines follwed then with energetic vocal line. Ted's voice is actually reminding me to Nick d'Virgilio's even though his is thinner. As concluding track this one tries to express the origins of Spock's Beard's music. In the middle of the track the music turns slow with some bluesy style and Floydian guitar work. Oh.. I really enjoy the guitar solo that is really stunning and very Floydian! I think this guitar solo is played by Neal Morse. the most important thing is the composition that is so wonderful! The ending part contains the keyboard work as well as great guitar rhythm section.
Aaargh...what a novel long review! Sorry about that. I can't help it! This album is too damn great that requires me to keep on writing good things about it all the time as long as I wish to do it. I keep playing it the main disc and also the bonus one. I do not write the bonus disc even though it contains good and excellent stuffs like Something Very Strange the shorter version and other..actually I want to keep writing about this album but I am sure that you got bored already with this. Bottom line: It's a masterpiece prog album of this year and it's the best Spock's Beard has ever produced so far. I know the band has undergone various turbulent times with changes of personnel. But they keep going and I really salute to them. They proved that withouth Neal Morse they could make excellent work like Octane - even better than Neal's era. When Nick departed to join Cirque du Soleil, many music critics doubted the continuation of Spock's Beard. But hey.. Look at this wonderfully crafted album! It's a full five star rating for this one. Keep on proggin'...!
Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW
I just put this latest Spock's Beard album on one late lazy Friday night after listening to a bunch of other bands. To be honest I just wanted a relaxing music experience to settle me down for sleep, but what I got instead was more than enough to wake up my senses. This is an absolutely stunning album from start to finish. I had to reawaken my brain to really take in the immense intricacies in each track and by the end of this I was completely in awe of the brilliance of a band that has been around for so long and still manages to create such incredible music, as good as they have ever achieved even after 11 studio albums in the catalogue. The previous album 'X' was X-cellent but they have surpassed themselves with this latest release 'Brief Nocturnes and Endless Sleep', an instant masterpiece.
What stood out from the outset is the bright production and mixing of the album where every instrument simply shines with strength. Spock's Beard have reinvented themselves after losing their lead singer and who would have thought they would return with such a ferocity releasing such a brilliant album. The heavy riff on 'Hiding Out' is glorious and kicks the message home without dominating too much. The keyboards are a force to be reckoned with played with incredible virtuoso strength by Ryo Okumoto. Alan Morse is a fantastic guitarist but it is the voice of Ted Leonard that enhances the songs and his guitar work is very well executed too. Nick D'Virgilio was a fine vocalist but Leonard injects an unreserved enthusiasm and much needed passion into this new sound. Jimmy Keegan's Drums maintain a strong rhythm and have a great timbre amongst the layers of musical excellence. Leonard's voice is crystal clean and easy on the ears, reaching many octaves it seems effortlessly such as on the melodic uplifting 'I Know Your Secret'.
There are some beautiful passages of flute on this album too such as on 'A Treasure Abandoned' accompanied by gorgeous lead guitar licks and synth flourishes. The bassline by Dave Meros is certainly a feature on this track too. There are many twists and turns on this song with extended keyboard and guitar trade offs and an organic soundscape culminating in a stirring finale of grand proportions, simply amazing and emotional music to caress the ears.
The next track is 'Submerged', with a strong melody and sing a long chorus 'throw me a line, I'm sinking down, submerging further, further from you, not doing so fine, further and further, further from you'. The rhythm guitar riff is terrific too the way it breaks all the keyboard layers, a great song that could easily be a hit single.
Following this is a synth and guitar feast on 'Afterthoughts' embellished by vocoder by John Boegehold. The vocal style is akin to vintage Neal Morse SB style. The riff is heavy and endearing throughout, but the main showcase is the jittering organ notes that are played with staccato rhythms. There is even a monosyllabic lead break and then a Gentle Giant harmonised a Capella section. In fact this is reminiscent of some of the vocal harmonies on Neal Morse's masterful 'Momentum Live' album. The synth solo is wonderful and echoed by fret melting lead guitar work as good as I have heard from SB.
It is nice that Neal Morse guest stars on guitar along with Craig Eastman on violin, viola, hurdy gurdy, both featuring on 'Something Very Strange'. This showpiece opens with ethereal howling wind and psychedelic phased vocals. A happy Hammond sound follows a fractured time sig and some glorious keyboard string pads. The guitar riff is heavy following the broken rhythm of the organ. Then it locks into a glorious prog time sig repeating a motif until it breaks again into lush Mellotron soundscape and warm synth washes. The vocals sing of a journey and something coming fast our way, 'a race to revelation with the ringing of the bells'. The song is infectious melodically but the musicianship is outstanding in itself, a lead and synth break by Okomuto and Morse that even surpasses other work on the album, making this a spellbinding experience. It is stunning innovative music at its highest calibre, and I was not really expecting this on the latest Spock's Beard album as many of their earlier albums do not measure up to such virtuoso musicianship. What a pleasant surprise and there are still 5 songs left. The question is will it remain consistently so masterful? I hoped so when I first heard this.
Next is 'Waiting For Me', with a slow measured cadence at first building with backwards violin and pulsating bassline that dominates wonderfully. Leonard really sounds a bit like Neal Morse as it has his influence and similar melody that he pens. The bassline during the lead break is absolutely killer and I like the way it settles down and some quiet vocals are heard over gently piano, a release after all the tension in the music previous. Alan Morse violins out a solo of exquisite beauty, so emotional and captivating it made tears fill my eyes. I love those tremolo passages and speed picking after all the high string bends. Ryo launches into a mind bending solo and enhances this song into one of the masterpieces of the album in a long line of masterpieces. I am just stunned at the brilliance of this album, it is virtually flawless in every department.
Next on the menu is 'The Man You're Afraid You Are' that opens with some loud bombastic music and merges into a funky instrumental break with guitar vocoder and some amazing bass work from Meros, as good as Geddy Lee gets. The keyboard and guitar lines over this bass are incredible interplaying so well and so whimsically answering each other in a musical conversation. An acoustic vibration comes in with sweet guitar tones and harmonised vocals. It really is a beautiful composition of immeasurable virtuosity.
'Down A Burning Road' has a warm lead break to intro it before it builds to a stirring Mellotron layer and some gorgeous guitar picking in the background, did I mention virtuoso? The vocals are reflective and melancholy 'all alone, carry us back to a better way, carry us back with the setting sun, carry us back on a wave of love and grace, carry us back as the day is done.' The meaning becomes clear of a man searching for the past when things were better, obviously suffering some trauma. The twin guitars cry over a layer of keyboards and more Mellotron washes, a sensuous soundscape. The band can do no wrong with this latest lineup or incarnation, that much is sure.
'Wish I Were Here' follows and it is a synth driven track with some very heavy lead guitar distortion and a formidable riff as harmonised vocals take over. That riff is very catchy and always a moment on the album on every listen. The other version of 'Something very Strange' the Sanctified Version is one of the bonus tracks and is shorter but still as powerful with that cool voice vocoder reminding me of 'The Raven' by Alan Parson's Project. The melody is so endearing it is impossible for me not to enjoy this compelling track. There are other bonus tracks too but the main album is worth the price of admission on its own.
Funky beard styles
I honestly did not expect a masterpiece with this album as it has not really stirred up too much conversation in the prog community outside of a bunch of reviews, but it hit me with full force on a late night listen. I did notice the reviews overall are arc welded to the 5 star rating and I have to throw my iron in the fire and add to those 5 stars too. Every listen adds so much more depth and it really grows on the ear after a while too. It is too great to award it anything less as it captivates on every listen and exudes such a dynamic energy it is quite extraordinary. This is the type of music I was mesmirised with on Neal Morse's 'Momentum Live' that is absolutely outstanding. 'Brief Nocturnes and Endless Sleep' is equally as exceptional, a masterpiece undoubtedly as it encompasses everything that makes prog great. When prog reaches such a brilliant standard it is because it does not rely on just clever complex musicianship and a myriad of excellent breaks but it also has to have some meaning in the lyrics and reach the listener on an emotional level. This album does that instantly and also has some of the most infectious and melodic songs I have heard from the Beard and they are confident on every song injecting so much passion and dynamism, seemingly reborn after some turmoil in the ranks. I was entertained by 'Spock's Beard Live', enjoyed 'Octane' immensely, loved 'The Light', adored 'Snow' and "V" and also was knocked out by 'X', but 'Brief Nocturnes and Endless Sleep' is on another level in terms of musicianship and innovative song structures. It is simply the pinnacle of Spock's Beard I am delighted to report to the prog faithful!
Having only heard "V" before, I had little knowledge of Spock's Beard's sound but I gathered that it was some very talented prog rock combined with some standard pop rock songs. Deciding that this album might be a good follow-up purchase, I gave a brief listen to "A Treasure Abandoned" and loved the chorus enough to order the album soon after.
I was not disappointed at all. The instrumental introduction to the opening track "Hiding Out" is a wonderful example of modern progressive ROCK, at least in so far as some very nice heavy guitar accompanies piano, organ, and synthesizer. Each song thereafter has some great moments such as the 80's Rush sound in parts of "I Know Your Secret" and the wild guitar effects solo, the beautiful melody of the chorus of "A Treasure Abandoned", and the weirdness and humour of "Afterthoughts" (incidentally, this song includes an a cappella part similar to that of "Thoughts Part 2" from "V"). "Submerged" is more of a standard pop rock song that could be played on rock radio.
The real joy comes in with "Something Very Strange" which is where we get a taste of a classically flavoured prog rock song. This song hints at modern Yes when they are at their very best. The momentum continues with "Waiting for Me", which also includes some Yes-inspired music, though there is more of a pop-rock meets prog feel to this one. I also found myself thinking of Deep Purple's "Now What?!" as that album too includes a lot of rockers with parts that allow the musicians to stretch out and be creative.
The second disc includes two more songs in the semi-prog rock mould and one in the order of standard rock. Finally, there's a remix of "Something Very Strange" which I feel is not as good as the disc one version. The track listing here on PA shows a fifth song but my copy of the bonus disc does not come with it.
I have a lot of prog albums that I can't really play in the car stereo when my wife is with me because she'd likely wonder what the heck I was listening to (Van der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant, Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson). But I've had Spock's Beard in twice ("V" and "Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep") and both times she's inquired about the music, particularly curious about the keyboard playing. She has little knowledge of the history of popular music and doesn't yet know the term "progressive rock", though she knows that a lot of the music I listen to is not your standard pop music. It seems that Spock's Beard is a good band for getting an uninitiated female interested in prog and this album would appear to have the right balance of modern rock with progressive tendencies. Not a prog masterpiece but terrific if you like something more orthodox where great musicianship and songs are the cake and crafty compositions and skillful solos are the icing of a delicious rock album.
There are a lot of nice things I can say about this release by Spock's Beard, but you can read about those in nearly every other reviewer's take on this album. For me, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep is a modern prog diversion that doesn't fully live up to the hype, or the band's legacy.
In becoming more precise and thoughtful, the band has also shaved away one of the great things that made the Beard different from the other modern prog acts: the reckless energy and enthusiasm that borrowed inspiration from the great prog acts of yesteryear but transformed them into something fun and unique. This release sounds exactly like you would expect a modern prog act to sound... which I think I'm using as criticism. There are no surprises, experimentation, moments that touch your spirit, or much of anything else on this album that makes Spock's Beard stand out as a unique voice. Hard-rock homages to Gentle Giant don't count.
First let's just get the big question out of the way. How is the band's newly acquired third singer, Ted Leonard? Acceptable is about the best I can do. His voice is in a high register and flat throughout much of the album. He doesn't have much range, and doesn't emote in a way that connects with me. He's not bad, but upon first listen I immediately thought that this guy could be a singer for practically any prog act from the late '90's or early '00's - his voice is that bland and predictable. I'd take Neal Morse's caterwauling or Di''Virgilio smooth, radio-friendly vocals any day. Vocals are the low point of the album.
With that being said, the band sounds very good overall. Dave Meros' bass and Ryu Okomoto's keyboards standout especially. I think that Ryu's soloing and background textures makes him one of the sharpest keyboardists around. Unfortunately, Alan Morse's guitar slips under the radar for much of the album, as he delivers only one or two creative moments. The instrumental sections of songs are easily the most enjoyable part of the album, they are ambitiously complex and well-executed, but they aren't going to knock anyone's socks off.
Compare Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep to the dramatic energy of Snow, to the elevating energy of Day For Night, to the creativity found throughout The Light and Beware of Darkness and you'll see that fine playing and pandering to proggery isn't enough to make a great album. Still, don't write this one off completely, it's a fine example of modern prog even with its shortcomings.
Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 3 - Lyrics/Vocals: 2 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 3
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