When one thinks of Texas the thoughts that come to mind are; Longhorns, Ten Gallon hats, southwestern food, people all called Bubba and good ol’ hospitality and not really Progressive music. The stereotypes are abundant about one of the biggest states in continental USA but those stereotypes are shattered by a band from Austin, Texas… The Aaron Clift Experiment. Having previously reviewed their Outer Light, Inner Darkness album a while ago I was introduced to a unique sound that blends new and old styles and influences that drain your mind of all but the souls bared through their music.
In this two part review we will go through their new album, “If All Goes Wrong” and in part two an interview with the band and its frontman and designer, Aaron Clift. The cover art shows to me what dreams may come and possibilities of the world on fire as the last man standing is pulled from the wreckage of earth to the heavens above. But, I also see that same angel putting the last man standing back on the ground saying you made this bed now sleep in it. The facial images in the clouds are haunting and as they swirl around the angelic woman who’s bringing or leaving that last man to/from the heavens.
“Faith” opens up the album with an emerging slap of sound that hits your face a 100mph and doesn’t stop. Like the roar of an engine just before take off from a war bound carrier this track is a fast hard driving track that tells you straight out what’s what. An aggressive gnarly guitar track that has that early 80’s Euro metal sound that hits you with that ‘bite’ you just can’t ignore and your teeth clench just a bit as you say, “YES!”. Aaron’s vocals are strong as always which is such a grace of clarity because you just can’t mumble vocals and his delivery of voice has always been a favourite of mine because his distinct sound and clarity singing is hard to find. Lyrically strong about false prophets, glory seekers and those who feel the need to help those they deem worth saving in my opinion only to be told not to waste their efforts on those they choose to “save”. The bass line is strict and tight in the pocket with the drummer who’s fills add more ferocity to the gamut they are running here. A short blistering guitar solo adds a fulfilling entrée as the synths throw wave upon wave of lush overtones that blanket beautifully with the drums and bass like a fine wine. Stellar opening track to the new record.
“Last Crash” gives us that opening futuristic synth sound that flows through your veins and your body chills and shivers as you feel it run throughout your central nervous system. The bass cuts through like a knife to warm butter with what I call double notes in the post rock feel adding another facet to their sound. The drums are so tight you couldn’t get in there with a shoe horn! Scathing guitar tones like gears grinding hard and fast in your ears again giving the second track a more aggressive feel to it but the vocals caress your tense nerves. You can really hear the influences of Queen’s Brian May in the guitar riffs and that late 70’s early 80’s Queen synth sound, but here the band make their own with it and not imitate Queen. With prominent vocals and the short bursts of start stop shakes the timbre of the song on you and you can feel that pulse of a fast car narrowly missing the wall then SLAM!!! The walking bass line after the guitar solo was a real treat as the band goes in to a feel of the mid section to King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man as another homage to their influences.
“Absent Lovers” definitely pulls you back in time to the days of minstrels and magic with the opening that has you in a grand ballroom surrounded by Kings and Queens. With the hard rocking power tunes opening up the album, bands will add the soft ballad but here they go from ballad to power ballad style here which I was not expecting and pleasantly surprised by! The addition of classical instrumentation gives the band that old school feel to the song and style. Vocally this is absolutely something I can imagine in a musical stage performance they are so striking and with the brilliant musicianship behind the voice this is a show stopping breathtaking track! Compelling and storytelling, graceful yet subtle it regales the listener with fables of love and the trials and tribulations of life. Flowing from fast to slow shifting timbres this track keeps flooring me as it sways to and fro like the madness of love and emotions running high and swiftly through forests at night.
“Better Off Before” throws me back to the first time I heard Queen’s Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy. The multilayered vocals and the jovial bounce to the song takes you up and over the clouds with the drums adding in that intermittent fill and the guitar sound that has that slight flange fuzz to it. The bass keeps us all in check as it’s solid and stout, very upper lip tight. The bright piano track has your feet tapping along and you can’t help but move around the room in this waltz style piece. The band does this sound justice and I love the lyric, “Life looks better through the rear view mirror”, it speaks volumes to me and you can relate to this track in so many ways as its haunting fluidity brings you full circle to so many things in your past that you can’t either retrieve in your future or you want to leave behind and know that life was better off before.
“Castle in the Sky“, some song titles just yell at me it’s gonna be heavy, this is one of those titles. The tank busting introduction says all to me that it’s a powerhouse track. Soaring guitar riffs between verses take you higher through the clouds to that castle’s front doors. The bass pushes you up faster and stronger to reach it as the drums are fighting the demons below as the snaps and fills of the snare are firing all guns down so you reach that destination. The synths howl across the skies like the four winds of a divine messenger. Hair raising tones with another striking vocal delivery bringing your first steps to the castle that much faster and closer to the edge of your journey through this song. The complexity of this track is fueled by the ever changing drum patterns which are just mind blowing along with the accompanying bass that stands fast with the drums, an absolutely solid spinal column here as the guitar stabs the air briskly with stunning accuracy and the open pockets of air are filled with the glowing synths and voicing tones that break through with complimenting layers. Coming to an abrupt finish you are left hanging at the front door waiting for your moment to walk in.
“Savage in a Fancy Suit” is a sleazy story about THAT guy, you know the type. The song has that sultry tone and dirty stepping style to it that is just gritty and disheveled. I love the Beatles-esque Come Together bass line at times, it adds to the down right raunchiness to this track. The drums are full force here with fills that tell you off and thunder through any crowd. Guitar riffs that are brought up from the mud and start throwing it about without a care and shout their way out not caring you it offends. The keyboards here remind me of the sultry style of Ray Manzarek had on parts of the L.A. Woman album and during their 1968 tour in Europe, fuzzy and dirty. Yeah I’ve used that term to describe this song a few times here but it really is and I’m loving it. Vocally dark and sinister, a cross between Jim Morrison and James Hetfield, a growl that snarls and barks at you leaving you at a sense of unease and disturbed. Truly a change of pace for the album which brings it even more diverse and a colourful addition to the album’s atmosphere.
“Dream Within a Dream” gives the listener that monumental Prog sound, big lush tones, fused with softer vocal passages as it builds up and takes off again. A kaleidoscope of sound presented here. The subtle hallways of audio thoroughfares that come in and out of the song add to the flare and well constructed design of this piece. Pastoral vocals and sharp changes in timbre throughout gives the song several parts to one track. Very King Crimson, Alan Parsons and Yes all rolled in to one song! The band has progressed with their styles and sound on this record apart from their previous offerings which is great to hear because as a band the drive is to further expand the listening spectrum of their fans and friends and themselves as well! The song rises and rolls with tones and multilayering the vocals, synths and wonderful influences coming through loud and clear allows this song to breathe both above and below water lines with great ease. The shift to a more tight Prog transition for the first guitar solo to sear through like a hot knife was well received by the flow of the composition only to be returning as the eagle in the second solo. Flawless throughout by all here. It slowly fades away with the galloping sound of the song as if to return for another round of sound but alas not to be.
“Wild Hunters” is a firestorm of a composition that has a bouncy bass line that has you throwing your head back and forth in an almost head banging way! It’s a burly and foot tapping track that makes you want to drive really fast! Listen to it at home and not on the road! It’s a racer’s dream piece! Like a grand scene at the start of a race it commences with an explosive guitar solo and full blown onslaught of that BIG sound again. The band barrels through this piece and being the shortest song on the album they spare no note unused, now riff left behind here. One thinks of so many influences here from Queen to Asia, Alan Parsons Project to Free et al. It’s jarring as it is driven. Every member of the band is so tight here that there’s no room for error, no room for breathing by the sounds of it because they are so high on audio octane here it’s monumental!
In true Prog album tradition the band leaves the title track for the very end of the circle for us to hear. Title tracks I have found are either, the second, middle or last track with most bands but Prog albums like to be middle or ending of the record for us to take in. Here the band goes old school style and leaves it till the end.
“If All Goes Wrong” brings the album to a close with the soulful piece full of emotions carried through the voicing of Aaron Clift. A grand finale piece to end the album on a powerful note. The song flourishes from start to finish with grandiose tones and soul reaching vocals pushing through clear as day. The band comes full circle with this piece bringing all the; fast paced, jovial, hard knocking, driving and pushing songs before it to a close. A slow burn end to the album, the band really goes deep with tones, emotions, feeling and strength all at once. The song sways, dives and flies all over your psyche and brings you to a contentment to finish the album with. The last notes dive out in to the depths of space. It’s truly a piece to be heard and not read, brilliant finale to a absolutely great album. ~Enjoy
Another fine delivery of sound by The Aaron Clift Experiment and a wonderful addition to your Prog Collective as well.
In part two you will read the interview that is currently taking place so stay tuned!