Now up to their fifth album, New Jersey art-rock band 3RDegree are a collective that take on heavy concepts without batting an eyelid. Their previous breakthrough album The Long Division, released in 2012, failed to properly connect with me, mostly because its subject matter although pertaining to the universal left-right divide of modern politics was specifically centred on the American experience. Cogent and intelligent lyrics are central to this band, so the more all-encompassing subject matter of Ones & Zeros: Vol. 1 makes it a far more involving experience for this particular listener. That and the music, which has advanced from the sometimes over-dense backing on The Long Division to a fairly unique take on art-rock, forming a zesty and full-on soundtrack for George Dobbs’ thought-provoking lyrics.
Without spoiling the story too much, the album deals with advances in technology at the expense of morality and the collective soul, in a world dominated by a multi-national conglomerate with the charming name of “Valhalla Biotech”. The album is interspersed with Big Brother announcements from Valhalla Biotech, often with an arch Zappaesque humour, such as “At the Valhalla Biotech Corporation aging is no longer a disease. With an Elixir Center conveniently located near you, there is no longer an excuse not to prolong your once inevitable expiration date”. This archness reaches a climax during We Regret To Inform You, where the vocals are spoken by a robotic voice which informs the listener that “your father has been deleted”, over a driving bass-led art rock work out.
This is one of those albums that at some point will demand that you sit down with the lyric booklet as it is playing. Equally it can be put on to your audio device of choice and enjoyed purely for the music, which takes obvious American prog and art rock influences such as Zappa, Steely Dan, Rundgren, and moulds them into something recognisable simply as 3RDegree. Delighting in their undoubted chops, the band always remember the song that is central to all their compositions, and also know the benefit of scattering killer hooks as bait throughout this enjoyable listening experience. There is no noodling on this record, it is a lean fighting machine of tight-knit ensemble playing.
Arriving at one’s ears is a similarity to echolyn’s latest fab waxing, and opener The Gravity runs the gamut of 10CC-like harmonies, a feature of the record as no less than four backing vocalists frequently join George Dobbs in one or other combination, indeed The Gravity heads into its last section on the back of a complex call-and-response acapella part.
George Dobbs is joined on equal terms in the composition credits by guitarist Patrick Kliesch and bassist Robert James Pashman, the three obviously knowing a thing or three about arranging. The delightful Life, written by all three, climbs a harmonic staircase as it strives against a dystopian future, becoming an instant earworm in the process.
Rhythmically complex, yet light on its feet, the rhythm section are as good as you’d expect, given the company they keep. The drummer reminds me of Phil Collins at his Genesis prime, before the pop rot set in.
Ultimately, Ones & Zeros: Vol 1 is pop music for the sophisticated palate, and deserves any exposure it can get.
01. Hello, World! (0:17)
02. The Gravity (7:51)
03. This Is The Future (4:36)
04. Life (3:08)
05. The Best & Brightest (4:06)
06. Circuit Court (5:20)
07. Life At Any Cost (8:50)
08. What It Means To Be Human (5:31)
09. We Regret To Inform You (5:23)
10. More Life (5:34)
Total Time – 50:36
George Dobbs – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion & Additional Guitar
Robert James Pashman – Bass guitar, Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Patrick Kliesch – Electric Guitars, Acoustic 6-string Guitars, Backing Vocals & Additional Keyboards
Eric Pseja – Electric Guitars, 12-string Acoustic Guitars & Backing Vocals
Aaron Nobel – Drums & Percussion
Bryan Zeigler- Electric Guitars & Backing Vocals
Record Label: 10t Records
Date Of Release: 18th August 2015