1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 274

Octane, by Spock’s Beard
Suggested by Stuart Taylor

This project has put me through the wringer.

I’m not talking stress levels, although I admit sometimes the 3am postings have set me on edge the following day. I’m talking emotionally. I’ve consumed so much new material, so much that’s outside my personal comfort zone, that it’s taken a toll.

I’ve been offended by Eminem, I’ve been angered by Son of Dork, I’ve been confused by Captain Beefheart, I’ve been enthralled by Songhoy Blues, I’ve been menaced by Geto Boys, I’ve been  impressed by Watsky, I’ve been amused by Mik Artistik, I’ve been scared by  Rotting Christ, I’ve been irritated by A$AP Rocky, and I’ve been by Nirvana.

If we only look at Prog music, I’ve danced through a gamut of emotions, from irritation to bafflement to wonder and beyond. This is unsurprising, as my feelings towards this wide and sumptuous genre have developed through the months, from abhorrence to grudging acceptance to respect and more.

And so we come to Spock’s Beard, a Prog Rock outfit hailing from Los Angeles. First thing of note? Love the name. Very quirky. At this point, I’m hoping the music contains similar whimsy.

Unfortunately, it’s not the case.

Octane is the band’s eighth studio album, the first seven tracks of which form a single complete work that tells the story of a man involved in a car accident, reliving his memories in the moments following the crash. This concept section, and the album in general, starts of in fine form with my standout track The Ballet of Impact. It’s a charged, adrenaline-fuelled symphonic synth piece that gallops along in a menacing and almost discordant pace.

But after this excellent start, things go downhill pretty quickly. Too many of the subsequent songs are bland in scope and structure, from the plodding guitar of Climbing That Hill to the formulaic ballad of I Wouldn’t Let It Go, there’s a ratio imbalance that favours the Rock in detriment of the Prog. After the bombast and bravado of the opening track, I was disappointed that the rest was all rather mundane.

There were a few more excellent offerings, most notably The Planet’s Hum, which begins with some trilling filigreed instrumentation that builds into a frenetic and stuttering jumble that bounces and barks toward an exultant conclusion. I originally had it down as my standout, but that was before I realised it was called The Planet’s Hum, and not what I first thought, the vastly superior The Planet’s Mum.

According to the internet, this period of Spock’s Beard saw them mired in mundanity after the loss of their apparent founding musical powerhouse, Neal Morse. There were fears, at the time, that without Morse’s intelligent songsmithery and guiding hand, the band could descend into a pit of the blandest beige, and for huge swathes of Octane I fear the doomsayers were correct. While the highs were high, the lows were too low to keep my juices flowing.

I award Octane a middling 5/10, and add another emotion to my above list, one that I’d never expected to use as a descriptor for Prog… In truth, I was simply bored.

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