Boston band Bent Knee are the current rising stars of the new progressive scene in the USA and are lauded, rightly so it must be said, for bringing a much needed blast of energy and youthful enthusiasm to the alternative music scene, but a few hundred miles south in Montclair, New Jersey they have soulmates by the name of Thank You Scientist, a band formed around the same time, roughly speaking at the turn of the last decade. Thank You Scientist are a group who make similarly energetic and intricate math-pop rock with a human face.
Like Bent Knee, and a few other bands in this “scene that isn’t”, which mostly have female singers, Thank You Scientist have a strong lead voice although Salvatore Marrano is, given the name, obviously a man, with a high register similar to Cedric Bixler-Zavala. Some wag on YouTube described it as “Michael Jackson doing prog rock” – harsh, but funny!
Much of this album charges along at 100mph without hardly taking a breath, and it does get a tad wearing after a while, not helped by the slightly overlong running time. In my humble opinion, any album over an hour long is too long. Having listened to this record several times in the name of research, I feel much like Foreman must have felt at the end of several rounds of battering from Ali. I’m still standing, but I am none too sure where I am or how I got here. This kind of relentless aural pummelling can be revelatory if done right, as The Mars Volta managed to do with their first two albums before disappearing in a cloud of indulgence, and Thank You Scientist almost get there, but as a whole experience, Stranger Heads Prevail does not quite hit the heights. I fully expect there to be a truly great album in this band, but this isn’t it.
Some light and shade is offered by the vaudevillian album bookends Prologue and Epilogue, both of which have a Queen-like theatricality about them and show how musically diverse this group can be. That diversification also shines through in snatches, for instance on the intro to the track Psychopomp, which has a flamenco feel before the inevitable accelerator is pressed. However more variation of pace in the future allied to the varied musical influences on show in this and other tunes hint at what Thank You Scientist are no doubt capable of.
The tone of the album is set by second track The Somnambulist with its fast and intricate arrangement and Salvatore’s full-on pipes. A Mars Volta comparison is lazy if inevitable, but Thank You Scientist is not as heavy as the Latino enigmas. A welcome break from the breathless headrush is instrumental track Rube Goldberg Variations, which is not as you might expect from the title a math rock wigout, but a sumptuous jazz rock burner with interludes of almost Canterbury atmospherics and of course, a smidgeon of mathy riffing.
Guitarist Tom Monda when not chopping trees with his axe also favours the squally lead break, but thankfully these make only occasional appearances and are kept mercifully short, for this band is more about tight ensemble playing than individual showing off, another factor that bodes well for the next record. Stranger Heads Prevail is only the band’s second album, and I may have been a little harsh in my comments in this review as it is still a good listen and all the signs are there for a really promising future. Watch this space…
01. Prologue: A Faint Applause (2:06)
02. The Somnambulist (5:43)
03. Caverns (7:19)
04. Mr. Invisible (7:49)
05. A Wolf In Cheap Clothing (6:56)
06. Blue Automatic (5:51)
07. Need More Input (8:01)
08. Rube Goldberg Variations (9:10)
09. Psychopomp (9:43)
10. The Amateur Arsonist’s Handbook (6:14)
11. Epilogue: …and the Clever Depart (1:09)
Total time – 70:05
Salvatore Marrano – Vocals
Tom Monda – Guitar
Cody McCorry – Bass
Odin Alvarez – Drums
Ben Karas – Violin
Ellis Jasenovic – Saxophone
Andrew Digrius – Trumpet
Record Label: Evil Ink Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 29th July 2016