They say everything’s bigger in Texas and like many of the other states that we have discovered Prog bands in on our blogging escapades here with yours truly, Texas isn’t renowned for turning out Prog music. But that has since changed with, “The Aaron Clift Experiment” from Austin. Their second album is eight tracks of traditional Prog greatness achieved through the classical halls and dynamics of the 70’s brought back to life more than they are downloaded from iTunes.
Formed in 2011/2012 the band has gone through a couple of lineup changes in its few short years alive but doesn’t every band go through at least one within their first year or two? Somewhere? Somehow? Anyways, getting on with it they finally have a group of mates that gel well together and are on their way to making a name for themselves in the Prog scene and contributing to their entrance to the Great Halls of Prog one day and they are definitely heading in the right direction. Their name evokes images of again, Alan Parsons Project, David Rhodes Band, Andy Jackson, Downes Braide Association and other bands who use their names as the band’s moniker and there’s nothing wrong with that provided you can hold up that name to your music and it doesn’t go to your head which I don’t get that vibe from these guys. Aaron seems to be level headed with the other band members and they all share the burden of writing, creating and making music so they have a good rapport with each other and it shows in their music. The band draws their inspirations from Prog greats such as The Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Opeth as well as real classical greats such as; Beethoven, Shubert and jazz influences like John Coltrane so the band comes from a wide diversity of sounds to help manufacture their unique brand of Prog.
There has always been a lot of speculation spoken in quiet circles that America doesn’t have the technical aspects or the historical context to be able to do Prog music the way that the UK or Europe does. PISH! Absolutely they do, it’s just that we have been overwhelmed with bands from across the Atlantic ocean that we only seem to know that Prog comes from there and yeah a lot of it does but there are many bands in North America from Canada, the U.S.,Mexico to South America that have all contributed to the world of Prog. Many of the blogs on here have made this possible and well… the internet obviously because if this were 1982 we wouldn’t have a clue about the majority of these bands ever and they would have faded in to obscurity, so internet technology and social media sites have given us the blessing of discovering these bands to which we are grateful for worldwide. The album “Outer Light, Inner Darkness” I happen to come by fluke one day not long ago and thought, why not, let’s see what they’re all about and I was taken by surprise at what I heard and now I look forward to seeing what they put out next! But for now let’s dig in to this album and discover Prog, Texas style.
“Kissed by the Sun” cracks the airwaves as the opener here that jumps right in with a drum snap leading us in to the rabbit hole right away. The violin gives us memories of 1974 era King Crimson with David Cross’ examinations of what four strings can do with a bow. The song carries down to a grooved bass line as the vocals enter with a sweet refrain of 70’s sounds emanating from his throat. The start/stop ingredient is well applied very soon in the song giving the song a good headway in to the Prog mix. No one instrument including the voice overpowers each other giving it an equal balance to absorb everything in well corresponding harmony. The guitar riff is dirty but has a good tight compression effect on it to keep it from over distorting which is always a favoured sound in Prog when it comes to guitars, not too heavy but not skimpy light either. Just in the middle where it has a great chunky riff that repeats in all the right spots. The mixing done on this record is amazing as it has a great tone and feel to it, makes way for a journey in to Prog here an enjoyable experience. Plus surprisingly there’s no southern drawl to the vocals nor that country music feel to it, it’s clean and I wouldn’t have guessed Texas if you had asked me before I knew! It also has the distinction of being ageless in the sense that you couldn’t pinpoint a timeline as to when this came out which also a great facet to their sound. A stellar little jazz ensemble occurs in the song with a commanding bass lead that alters the tempo/timbre of it allowing more of the Prog recipe to take place here making a well rounded track for an opener. “Locked” comes next with a soft touch and segues in to a flow of calmer waters but with a heavy tale in the vocals. Interesting pairing and the music has a nice build up with an even keel to the tempo and rhythm allowing the guitar solo to fly with a bit of extra burn to it in the middle giving it an off balance that works out well here. “Fragments of Sleep” has a slight Queen tone to it in spots as it mixes and blends the sounds together making for a late seventies feel to it as it borders on the contemporary scene with the piano notes and the bounce to the vocals but maintains the jazzier side of Prog as well as the ballad aspect keeping it just Prog enough to hold water. The piano offsets the guitar making it an interesting balance of tones here creating a fade away slightly on the guitar after a few bars as the piano takes the lead. The inclusion of classical strings adds a nice melodic touch to it and the band also does the classic Queen vocal harmonies at the end as well giving it a fitting tribute.
“Your Arms Hold Them to the Dark“, our mid point song in the album enters in with a soft synth refrain that is coupled with a solo vocal track that speaks softly until just before the one minute mark when we’re pelted with the onslaught of the full band sound in a Gothic tone that strikes to the very core of your being with a darkened strength form within. The song continues to pull back in to the quieter refrain but this time it’s hollow and has a creepy relationship now with the listener as it continues through the foggy synth notes under the vocal lead. The heavy aspects of this song reminisce of 90’s Metallica tones as the drums snap and the guitar distorts in a violent sense without losing control. A very well meticulous crafted song that holds dear to the Prog recipe quiet cunningly as it gets everything across in under five minutes. Job well done there guys! “Aoide, Goddess of Song” springs in to action next with a bright upbeat tempo and draws from Greek Mythology which keeps with the traditional Prog facet of using historical or mythological references in songs, Aoide being one of three muses who is the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Not often you find Greek mythology characters used in Prog unless the band is from there and even that is rare from the Greek Prog bands I have heard who sing in English and the lyrics I have seen translated. A good use of effects on the guitar and the drums are consistent with bright vibrant cymbal rides and a fluid piano riff that keeps this Mythological Progger going throughout its musical journey. “The Last Oasis” clambers in with another soft piano intro but is accompanied by a strings this time creating a classical suite beginning to this eight plus minute piece. With tempo/timbre changes it awakens images of early Genesis, fragments of Gentle Giant with the classical edge to it and a bit of “Atom Heart Mother” by Pink Floyd through inspirations and not imitations. We pilgrimage through this song for six minutes before we obtain a vocal track that is emotional and eloquent that reclines to get back to the music less than a minute later with a running acoustic riff followed by equally running away drumming patterns of blissful upbeat grooves that has you tapping both your feet if you are sitting down or easily got one on the go till the song crashes to a short but confluent ending.
I know that the lineup has changed since this recording but I felt it was a great rendition, powerful and definitely worth sharing with all of you. “Moonscape” is a bold and proud song of pure Americana, Texas style. The swagger and sway of the beginning of the song defines who they are aside from Prog Rock artists but proud Americans which makes this a blessing of a song on the album to them. The marching drum beat calls up Sunday Salvation Army Church Service where everything is sang in a march and it is a testament to who they are as people as well. This also being the longest song on the album clocking in at just over 12minutes is has the tempo/timbre changes present and after two minutes of Americana it’s back in to the Prog machine we go with a ballad ebb and flow that pulls inspiration from The Pink Floyd, Queen and various other UK Proggers of lengthy songs. The guitar solo is soulful and melancholy as it rains its notes down through the timbre of the song’s lament. They keep the flow of the song mellow and as soft as the moon looks from earth’s point of view as the dreamscape synths cradle the waves of the song. The low bass lines pulses throughout and the drums hold tight as the nervous system connection to the rest of the band’s movements. We pick up a bit around seven and a half minutes to a slight timbre change shifting to the next gear with a roundabout vocal track making you rethink your grooving out to the song and recalculating your foot taps. The waves of the song gradually build up to final Beatles-esque “A Day in the Life” type ending where they have that split second stop before the final crescendo. I wonder if they did what John Lennon did and added the 45kHz Dog whistle? (or Galton’s whistle as it is known as, technically). “Bathed in Moonlight” finishes off the record with a slow starter and keeps the quiet tone of the Prog pliable last song to soothe one’s nerves and bring your auditory canals back to full circle feeling and a well rounded memory of the first time you heard, “Shine On you Crazy Diamond parts vi-ix“, this song maintains the Prog recipe complete with it’s velvety synthscapes and cordial vocal track making it a very worthy Alan Parsons style ballad to finish off the journey through “The Aaron Clift Experiment“.
This band has definitely gotten their feet very wet in the Prog gene pool and they will continue to create and make music that it lead them down the rabbit hole so-to-speak and carry forth the Prog torch with pride as another Neo-Prog band of greatness. Definitely a band worth listening to and supporting, go to their website and check them out as we look forward to more albums from them and where they will journey to next on their way to the Great Halls of Prog. Enjoy.