Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Mini-review: Clark's Secret Identity (S/T) (EP) (2015)

CSI album cover

Album: Clark's Secret Identity
Artist: Clark's Secret Identity
Genre: Progressive rock
Tracks: 4
Total time: 25:05

There must be something in the water out in Pennsylvania, because it can't be a coincidence that the region has appeared to produce not just a good music scene, but a thriving progressive rock scene in particular. The scene has such a following there that it is home to RosFest, a 2-day celebration of all things prog. A Google search alone will show not only bands from the area, but a regional radio show dedicated to progressive rock and metal. While progressive rock has never been the figurative “popular kid” in the school of music, it appears that they have an appreciative audience out there in Pennsylvania, at any rate.

Now, joining the ranks of Pennsylvanian prog-rockers such as MindMaze and The Red Masque (just to name a couple) comes Clark's Secret Identity (or CSI for short), a three-piece band not only influenced by prog, but their musical tastes run the gamut from art rock, punk, and doom metal. So then, the band's name is probably quite fitting, as they have a lot more to them than what can be obviously seen (or heard).

“1982 Like the Northern Star”: A 7+-minute jam, I hear a lot of different progressive influences here; everything from Rush to Marillion to King's X to alterna-prog bands like Tool and Radiohead. While not an all-out rockin' jam to headbang to, this is still a good opening track worthy of turning up loud and tapping your toes to the beat.

“Useless Light”: I really like how the drums and keyboard play off each other in this song; it's got almost an exotic flair to it, and also reminds me a little bit of video game soundtrack music at the same time (this is a compliment, by the way!). The bass in the middle of the song is funky as hell, too. The chorus has just a touch of ’90s rock to it, which I like; the lyric “magazines and blog sites pay ordinary men to judge your life's work on a scale from zero to ten; tell me it's pretentious, they say it's got no heart; I'll just tell ’em that it's jazz, and suddenly it's art” has that sort of cynical sarcasm reminiscent of the era, and is also a perfect summation of how the progresive rock genre is belittled, and the fans' disdain for its critics. (Also, if some of you recall my blog entry about doing away with rating scales, then it probably comes as no surprise that I actually appreciate this lyric, because it is this same snobby attitude among so-called critics that is why I write reviews and why I created this blog.) Lyrically, this is probably my favorite song on the EP.

“Adventures at the Unit 2 Reactor”: The song title alone just screams “prog”, and the futuristic keyboard sounds pull us in right away, with some cool Yes influences, and then the band rips into a jam that would make Rush proud. This instrumental piece does a fantastic job at creating a sci-fi image of spaceships, far-away galaxies, and interplanetary chaos.

“Unwilling”: The final tracks starts in slow, dark, and ominous; almost with a gothic twist. The keyboard work reminds me a lot of The Doors or King Crimson: that moody, eerie, foreboding sound. Musically, while there are a lot of prog elements here (say, early Marillion or Genesis?), I would say it is more akin to symphonic or gothic rock, especially with the piano work and the gloomy lyrics. It's a hauntingly beautiful song, and musically, I would cite this as my favorite.

Overall opinion: Clark's Secret Identity has released a solid debut offering, and is definitely another new band I look forward to hearing more from in 2016. Musically, the band vibes together nicely and they show a lot of promise. Seeing as how this is their first recording, some bands only wish they sounded so tight after many years together! The fact that they can craft a progressive-styled tune in just 4 or 5 minutes (as is the case on half of the songs on this EP), it shows that they have the ability within themselves to know when enough is enough, and to let the song speak for itself (again, this is something that critics of prog rock never hesitate to point out). Shane has an even-keeled voice, very soothing and relaxing, as I think good prog vocalists should be. I am not really sold on these prog bands with screaming vocals; I feel that good prog should envelop the listener and take them on a musical journey, so a good prog vocalist should have the kind of voice that easily lures you into the world they are creating through the music, and CSI does this wonderfully. The guitar solos have a lot of finesse, but not overindulgent (a term which any fan of prog-rock will know is the mantra of all prog-rock critics). The bass is groovy, the drum work is cohesive, and the keyboards are never too overpowering, yet they always fit the mood of the song perfectly. For me, “Useless Light” and “Unwilling” are the prize gems of CSI's first release, and “Adventures at the Unit 2 Reactor” is a kick-ass prog-rock instrumental. The opening track could have used a little more oomph, but it's still a great song, and if that is my only “complaint”, it's a minor one at that. If CSI keeps at it, they're only going to get better and before long, they'll be making waves on the prog-rock scene in Pennsylvania and it's only a matter of time before RosFest comes calling!

CSI (from left to right): Keith, Matt, & Shane

Special thanks to Matt Bankes and Shane Anthony

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