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by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/25/2016)
Those of you who have been long time listeners to this series know that I have been a fan of art rock, or progressive rock, made famous in the late 1960s and 1970s by groups like Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Kng Crimson. While not all of that old music has aged particularly well, the prog-rock scene, as it has come to be called, continues and remains a niche cult area. It carrys on with some of the old-time geezers, and a few younger musicians who may be doing it as a retro thing, and perhaps as an offshoot of the popular neo-psychedelic retro scene. But once in a while, a non-geezer group will come along with their own take on the art rock scene and bring some interesting new twists to the genre’s elaborately arranged music, not doing it strictly as a nostalgia trip. We have a rather impressive new album by such a group, called Seaons, and their new, second full-length recording is called Aprilis.
Seaons are from Medford, Oregon, in the south central part of the state, and formed in 2011. Though they appear as a four-piece group live, the core membership is a trio, with Sean Siders on keyboards and lead vocals, Micah McCaw on guitar and Grayson Phelps on bass. They released their debut album three years ago in 2013, and now are out with Aprilis, which is a continuation of their sound, but with more elaborate arrangements. The album is very much in the art rock tradition with extended arrangements, with several tracks segueing into continuous sweeps of music like back in the day with groups like the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd. But Seaons’ influences are also somewhat more contemporary. When I listened to the album, I noted hearing some influence by U2 and Coldplay, bands of two successive generations. When I visited their website, I saw indeed listed those two groups as sources if inspiration and they also go back to the Beatles, who basically inspired the whole art rock scene. Lyrically, Seaons carries on the art rock tradition of opaque, vaguely philosophical words, and their introduction to the album on their website takes a rather apocalyptic direction. “Aprilis” by the way, was the Roman month of April, which represents the start of new life, following whatever demise of the world the band’s lyrics imply.
Art rock is known for its above the rock-average musicianship, and the members of Seaons are up to it with first-rate playing and vocals, as well as some very good arrangements. The keyboards tend to dominate and there several tracks have a strong presence for acoustic guitar. There are a few rock and pop cliches that pop up, but for the most part they have carved out their own sound in this day and age so far removed from the original art rock days. They often go for a higher energy sound, but their compositions tend to be multifaceted and layered with different section to the arrangements. However the band remains self-contained without any added session players.
Aprilis opens with the beginning of the first long suite on the album, Spaces of Heart & Mind. One can hear the band’s U2 and Coldplay influence, but they take it in their own direction. <<>>
That segues, though an ethereal synthesizer sequence into an instrumental piece called March, which shows the band at their prog-rock best. <<>>
The suite continues with The Full with Seaons more in the straight-out rock mode, though with the acoustic guitar prominent. <<>>
A piece called Rain / Garden of Time is itself in two parts beginning with a kind of archetypical prog-rock anthem-like song … <<>> before it gets into an interesting sequence with tricky rhythms that are also a kind of art-rock trademark. <<>>
The initial suite concludes with the track called Aprilis Fields which also blends classic-style progressive rock ingredients with more contemporary pop elements a la Coldplay. <<>>
There is a second lengthy sequence of tracks that flow into each other. It starts with a piece called The Visionary. This suite of tracks tends to take a heavier rock direction, with the cranked-up guitar taking more center stage. <<>>
The apocalyptic direction taken in their introduction to the album, is epitomized on the track called Doom, which could be something from a metal band from back in the day, but Seaons’ musicianship is better and it goes into a decidedly non-metal 6/8 meter. <<>>
The album concludes with a piece called Nostalgia with has a much more intimate, even folky sound. <<>>
Aprilis, the new second album by the Oregon band Seaons is a nice blend of old-fashioned progressive rock with more contemporary ingredients. It makes for worthwhile, absorbing listening like the music that influences them, marked by sophisticated arrangement, excellent musicianship and very good vocals. One can hear some obvious signs of groups that influenced them, mostly in terms of the arrangements, but they bring a lot of originality to the table and have definitely established their own sound.
In terms of audio quality, we’ll give the album a B-minus. The mix and sonic textures are very good, as is the use of spacial ambiance, but we’ll deduct a lot of points for the brain-dead volume compression that cranks everything up to the max much of the time and ruins the dynamics, the ebb and flow of the band’s orchestrations.
It’s nice to see and hear progressive rock continuing some 45 years after it began to emerge, being carried on by a new generation of artists who bring some of the 21st century into the music. Seaons do it and with a lot of class.
(c) Copyright 2016 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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