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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/21/2012)
The progressive rock, or art-rock scene, which emerged in the late 1960s continues in various forms. There are contemporary bands who take their cues directly from the early generation of prog-rockers like Yes, Genesis or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But it has been a couple of generations since then, and younger artists are likely to draw on other more recent influences as well. This week we have the impressive debut album by a Denver area group who draw on the musical complexity of the pro-rock scene while adding influences that span the generations since then. The quintet is called My Body Sings Electric, and their very independent release is called Changing Color.
My Body Sings Electric, a name inspired by a Walt Whitman poem -- which also spawned the title to the fusion band Weather Report's influential album I Sing the Body Electric -- was formed out of pieces of a couple of bands from the Denver area, Nemonic and Arms Over Colorado. My Body Sings Eletric is reported to have started out as an experimental almost hard-core band. They released an EP in 2008 but then the following year after having played a number of festivals, began to gravitate toward more a melodic pop-influenced sound while still incorporating some punk-rock influence and elements of the ubiquitous independent rock movement.
My Body Sings Electric decided to go for a more produced sound on their full album, and went to Portland, Oregon, to work with producer/engineer Stephan Hawkes. The band members were fans of groups that recorded at that studio with Hawkes. The result is the new CD Changing Color, which combines the group's tendencies toward elaborate arrangements and impressive musicianship, with their background in the alternative rock world, and influences from the more mainstream pop side. The CD's compositions have qualities a prog-rock fan can relate to, with impressively tight musicianship, and touches like the somewhat tinny bass sound that always marked the music of Yes, and strong appealing lead vocals. The group's alternative aspect comes through in the non-stop energy level of the music. It's pretty relentless. There isn't a slow or laid-back tune on the whole album, which is my principal beef with it. These guys obviously can play up a storm and there are a good number of interesting ideas to their compositions, but with everything upbeat and cranked up, it's an album that can leave you a bit fatigued. But like the alternative rock world, the tunes are relatively short, so there are none of the long symphonic-length works of the old prog-rock scene.
Also interesting is the fact that My Body Sings Electric has no keyboards in their instrumentation. It's just two guitars played by Nick Crawford and Jeff Fedel going at a strong clip. The rest of the band consists of Jason Bower sounding a bit like Yes' Chris Squire on bass, drummer Ben Scarboro, who is a solid player who acquits himself well on the band's complicated arrangements. And the lead vocalist is Brandon Walen, who is one adds much to the group's sound with his strong archetypal rock tenor.
The CD opens with a track that is fairly representative of the group's sound, Make You Disappear. It draws on both the pop facet including a number of sonic ingredients out of the playbook of 2000s hit rock bands like Coldplay, as well as the somewhat edgy prog-rock aspect. <<>>
One of the highlights of album is Living Proof, which nicely combines the band's pop tendencies with interesting composing and complicated arrangements. <<>>
Another strong track is Step into the Light, which the band intends to designate as the single. The song borders on cliches at times, but it's helped by more high quality composing and great musicianship on the part of the group. <<>>
A little bit less frenetic in sound is a track called Porcelain Skin with intriguing lyrics to go with the band's creative rock arrangement. <<>>
Another track that balances the pop rock with the prog rock is a tune called The End of Summer, with lyrics that are straightforward, but music that takes the opposite direction. <<>>
A piece called The Strongest Hurricane is rather emblematic of the band's problem with not being able to dial back. The song could be a nice laid-back rock ballad, even in an art-rock setting, but the group takes it at a frenetic pace, fully cranked up. <<>>
The CD ends with another worthy piece of writing, a song called The Awful Truth which also combines the alternative rock drive with the elaborate art-rock arrangements. But the sometimes that relentlessness overwhelms the musical content. <<>>
The band My Body Sings Electric's new CD Changing Color is a notable debut from an first-rate Colorado-based group who deliver music with the high level of musicianship and sophisticated compositions of the progressive rock world with the drive of the alternative scene. But sometimes the balance shifts a bit more toward the alternative or contemporary pop aspect than my taste, though the group's musical strength is not much diminished by that. I might advise them to switch to decaf, and lay back a little.
Our grade for sound quality is a C-plus. The mix and clarity of the instruments is fairly good. But the album is a poster child for the way CDs are badly overcompressed these days. The recording has virtually no dynamic range. It starts out at maximum level and stays there until the last note, completely robbing the music of any ability to ebb and flow. Perhaps producer-engineer Stephan Hawkes needs to undergo some intensive rehab to wean him from a seemingly pathological addiction to audio compressors.
As previously mentioned, My Body Sings Electric's album is a very independent release, and the band is making it available for download at a name-your-own price basis, including free. That definitely shows that they is in it for the music. It's an already impressive band that has a lot of potential to become even more so.
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