One of the best parts about being an avid listener of music is discovering new bands. When I heard that Jake Livgren (nephew of Kerry Livgren from Kansas, and a contributor to several Neal Morse albums) was involved in a new project, my radar was on high alert. Livgren might be the voice of Motion Carries, the debut album by Emerald City Council, but this project is the brainchild of writer and multi-instrumentalist Brent Bristow, Professor of Music at Arkansas State University – Beebe, ably abetted by a rather talented cast of musicians.
Realize I – Escape From the Ancient sets the expectations high with an Alan Parsons Project-style instrumental narrated by actor Jeffrey Combs of Star Trek fame. An ethereal, atmospheric backdrop gives way to a rocking core tune highlighting Bristow’s sax and lead guitar by guest Brandon Goff (an Associate Professor of Music Industry at Francis Marion University). The first real revelation for me is drummer Noah Hungate (son of Toto bassist David Hungate); he is all over the place in the best way, adding drama and flair to a catchy and melodic tune. Realize II – Brutal Camouflage offers up a more traditional rock-oriented tune where the guitar and vocals are mixed up front. Hammond organ underpins the song and adds a classic rock dimension while synth riffs bring the hooks. On this song, as on most of the others, it’s the interplay of sax and guitar that bring the real interest. A nicely layered vocal section mid-song makes for a walloping one-two punch of an opener.
Hungate’s drums lead the charge on Noisy Talking, coaxing Jeremy Nichols’ bass out of the shadows. Livgren’s voice has range and emotion, but for me lacks a distinctive edge. That minor criticism aside, he brings the goods every time, rocking convincingly without the metal histrionics. While the sax and guitar do the vast majority of the soloing, this is one rare prog band that uses keyboards mostly for adding colour between the lines, so when a short synth phrase appears, it makes an impression. Mortal Game is the first song of the disc to cross the six-minute mark, enticing the listener with a jazzy sax and piano intro before the vocals kick in. Once again, Hungate’s drums intrigue, embellishing the beat with toms and cymbals. It isn’t until nearly four minutes in that the song opens up, the electric guitar and bass asserting themselves, lifting it into prog heaven. The layered vocals toward the end add a nice contrast to the solo piano and voice in the final measures. The first single released from the album was Ice Thinning, which starts off with a cool odd-meter opening that hearkens a very Kansas vibe. There are multiple moods and meters and a short but memorable synth solo. Bristow’s sax is exquisite, but I do wish he had altered his tone every oncee in a while.
Platforms of Illusion is the album’s epic centrepiece, justifying and revelling in its twenty-plus minutes at every turn. Beginning with a sumptuous baroque harpsichord/recorder introduction, the song offers the first of many transitions as it yields to a frantic drum and bass groove. The guitar and sax predictably alternate between duelling and mirroring one another over the thunder. This build-up to the vocal section proceeds in an overture-like manner, yielding to acoustic guitar for the vocal accompaniment. The acoustic guitar gives a refreshing lightness so that when Livgren declares, “Get ready for your bow / As you’re faking your best life now”, you’re almost feeling the contrast. The transitions from one section to another are smooth and seamless. Lyrically, much can be read into the text; “Why does no one ever listen to me / While I have the answers? / Try to tell you but you disagree / You respond with laughter” can be the words of a delusional politician, or a rocker believing his own hype, or some teen convinced of his or her own brilliance. Or maybe it’s just a reflection of humanity’s hubris in general – listen for yourself and decide. As with any good epic, themes are recapitulated throughout for a sense of continuity. Keyboards finally get a chance to solo and shine, even if only for a short time. Livgren and Bristow share the vocal duties, their voices different enough to appreciate what each brings to the table, that duality expanding the sonic palette. After a few listens, the song really pulls together and reveals its multitude of delights. Not the least of these is the manner in which the song ends. Has the protagonist fallen prey to delusion or risen above? The final lyrics offer nothing definitive as the singer intones: “Draw the line between absurd and our sanity / We’ll design a new faith in humanity / Realign as we make a new vow / We’re living our best life now”. A gorgeous Mellotron drenched finale closes proceedings in grand fashion.
A short instrumental, Diversion I, features impressive performances from Bristow on sax and Hungate on drums. Toto is the obvious jumping-off point for No Thanks To You, a song that could have been an AOR hit back in the seventies with its driving piano and guitar heroics. Even the time signature changes reflect a joy in the craft of songwriting, something Toto did quite well. Realize III – The Comfort of Suffering has a contemporary edge that sets it apart from its classic Kansas influences (I would have loved to hear Steve Walsh tackle this one). Ending the album, what is ostensibly a song about self-doubt, ultimately embraces positivity. Livgren sings, “But when you recognize all you’re hiding / You have agonized for all you’ve been through / When you realize all you’re finding / Is there, within you”.
Motion Carries is a bright debut that bodes well for the future. The music is strong and accessible but does not shy away from complexity. The lyrics are thought out and thought provoking; the band is tight and seasoned and primed for bigger things. Emerald City Council has placed a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with Motion Carries. Listen and be transported over the rainbow to a debut album worthy of your attention.
01. Realize I – Escape From the Ancient (4:56)
02. Realize II – Brutal Camouflage (4:59)
03. Noisy Talking (4:46)
04. Mortal Game (6:16)
05. Ice Thinning (5:22)
06. Platforms of Illusion (20:35)
07. Diversion 1 (3:00)
08. No Thanks to You (4:32)
09. Realize III – The Comfort of Suffering (6:15)
Total Time – 60:41
Jake Livgren – Lead & Background Vocals, Keyboards
Jeremy Nichols – Bass
Noah Hungate – Drums
Seth Hankerson – Guitar
Brent Bristow – Saxophone, Keyboards, Recorder, Guitar, Vocals
Brandon Goff – Lead Guitar (tracks 1 & 4)
Paul Bielatowicz – Guitar solos (track 3)
Jeffrey Combs – Narration (track 1), Acoustic Guitar (7)
Steve Rankin – Acoustic Guitar, Guitar Solo & Mandolin (track 7)
Mike Thompson – Guitar Solo (track 8)
Phillip Moore– Acoustic Guitar (track 2)
Heather Bristow – Vocals (tracks 2 & 4)
Douglas Case – Additional Guitar, Backing Vocals (track 3)
Calvin Barnes – Acoustic Guitar (tracks 6 & 9)
Record Label: Melodic Revolution Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 19th January 2024