Outer Light, Inner Darkness

Aaron Clift Experiment

Aaron Clift Productions, 2015

http://aaronclift.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/18/2015

A fascinating album about duality, the Aaron Clift Experiment's second album is more of a band effort than 2012’s Lonely Hills and is all the better for it. With strong elements of neo-progressive rock, fusion jazz and straight-out rock coalescing, the disc is a casual gem of which prog fans may want to take notice.

"Kissed By The Sun" fuses all of those above elements into a whole that is sometimes disjointed but always appealing. The opening guitar riff subverts standard ‘90s rock tropes by adding a weaving violin through the piece, which works through a standard verse/chorus format before a variety of instrumental breakdowns and a quick ending. "Your Arms Hold Them To The Dark" is the standout here, a piece that deceptively starts with Clift singing over nothing the occasional keyboard stab until, in a dramatic moment, the whole band comes in with a repeated spooky chord and some slashing electric guitar chords. The whole effect is eerie, like dusk in an unfamiliar and foreboding landscape, and it's excellent in a skin-crawling kind of way. Clift said in an interview the song was inspired by some of the more unsavory characters on the TV show my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Game Of Thrones, and that is evident in the playing.

"Locked" is more standard jazz-rock fare with a fine guitar solo and fairly emotional singing and "Aoide, Goddess Of Song" has an excellent guitar-heavy instrumental introduction that unfortunately gives way to a substandard prog-rock piece. The graceful "The Last Oasis" is a lovely instrumental for most of the run time, giving the beauty a chance to unfold until the whole band comes in after about four minutes, with only minimal singing and a strident climax to close things out.

"Moonscape" clocks in at 12 minutes and three parts, features a concept story about a soldier (complete with marching drums in the first part) and does not come close to achieving the catharsis that it desperately needs. Had the second section been shortened by half, things could have been better, especially when Clift's voice starts singing around itself at the eight-minute mark the thoughts of the soldier at night to start the third section. "Bathed In Moonlight" is pretty standard fare but closes in a soothing wash of keyboard sounds. The disc also tacks on two "bonus tracks," an acoustic cover of "Your Arms" that only uses piano but is still spooky and unnerving, and a shorter "single version" of "Kissed By The Sun" that is more effective.

There are many moments of excellence to be found around this album, and they aren't always in the same song, but even if the individual tracks aren't always stellar the disc as a whole is an ambitious, entertaining work of art that will appeal to modern prog fans. Now that Clift's band is solid, here's hoping they can gain more recognition outside of Austin and outside of the prog community. Outer Light, Inner Darkness is a fine place to start.

Rating: B-

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