Perfect Beings II

Perfect Beings

My Sonic Temple, 2015

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Progressive rock is back. Again.

Some would argue it never left, but it certainly went mostly quiet for about a decade after 1977, and has only intermittently crept back into the collective public consciousness since. For most of the period since Yes played to 130,000 fans at JFK stadium in Philadelphia in June 1976, prog has been a cult genre embraced by a hardy group of stubborn partisans.

In the last 10 years or so, however, prog has experienced a genuine resurgence. Interestingly, the same changes in the music industry business model that have made it harder for most acts to make a decent living recording and releasing new music have actually offered a strategic advantage to a certain type of band—those acts that can develop a loyal following of a few thousand fans who will support anything they do. The generally older, generally web-savvy prog fan base seems especially well-suited and willing to support the recording ambitions of both established and newer bands through tools like Kickstarter and PledgeMusic.

The latter platform has proved to be an effective springboard for Los Angeles-based prog quintet Perfect Beings (Ryan Hurtgen – vocals, Johannes Luley – guitars, Dicki Fliszar – drums, Chris Tristram – bass, Jesse Nason – keys). The group’s impressive self-titled 2014 debut came to my attention via my colleague Vish Iyer’s review. Their sophomore release arrived last week via PledgeMusic, once again beautifully designed and packaged. Beyond its rather unimaginative—if precise—title, II makes a strong case for Perfect Beings as one of the top acts among prog’s next wave.

The essence of Perfect Beings’s appeal to this prog fan is the confidence with which they combine classic prog influences with unexpected twists and turns, achieving a sound that manages to be both familiar and imaginative, comfortable and dynamic. Opener “Mar Del Fuego” offers a strong example of this right off the bat as its urgent opening section intersperses an aggressive, athletic jam reminiscent of “Close To The Edge”-era Yes with flamboyant flamenco strums and castanets. Two minutes in and it’s already clear you’re in the hands of bravura songwriters and performers. (It’s fitting too that the opener to an album dedicated to Chris Squire features especially bold, aggressive bass work from Tristram.) At 2:40, the song falls back to a little flute-bass-guitar interlude before Hurtgen enters for a single, breathy verse and we circle back around to the opening theme.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One after another, classic prog elements appear within freshly imagined environments. “Cyrogenia” brings the sci-fi—and electric harpsichord, courtesy of Nason—for a spooky, atmospheric tune about the emotional consequences of waking from a thousand-year cyrogenic sleep. Luley’s keening, woozy guitar solo gives the last third of the song a distinctly Floyd-ian feel, which continues into the brief, brooding instrumental “Samsara.”

“The Love Inside” is as close as II comes to a prog epic, a limber, chameleonic nine-minute mini-suite that ranges from rippling piano and bells to nimble, Steve Howe-influenced riffing, to a ferocious middle section that careens up to the edge of control without ever losing it, guitar and keyboards volleying back and forth.

What really sets Perfect Beings apart from the crowd is its sense of adventure, veering from heavy moments like the dark, aggressive opening of the aptly named “Volcanic Streams” to the distinctly jazzy feel of the second half of “The Yard,” featuring a guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a Wes Montgomery album. Then “Go” time-hops the group into the Big ’80s, dabbling in airy Euro-rock before swerving into a deranged, nearly atonal guitar solo, after which Hurtgen enigmatically declares “I want to know you like you were before.”

Indeed, the lyrics seem influenced by Jon Anderson’s early-Yes sound painting approach, more impressionistic than linear; they have an air of mystery about them that suits the band nicely. The lyric sheet illustrates this subtly, treating the streams of words as decorative graphic elements.

The album’s final third is equally cinemascope in tone. “Rivermaker” showcases Hurtgen’s elastic, jazz-influenced vocals and mysterious lyrics (“I want to be a rivermaker / So shining on the shore / I want to move tectonic plates / A whisper over this divide so great”) in front of a rangy, shape-shifting arrangement. “Cause And Effect” starts out airy and melodic before throwing a fit, with Fliszar’s crashing drums, Luley’s wild guitar figures and Tristram’s hyperactive bass battling to a thunderous draw, leading into a pleasantly soaring final section. Album closer “The Thrill Seeker” belies its name with a silky-smooth feel and smoky, crooning vocals from Hurtgen offering an almost plaintive finish to an otherwise energetic album.  

The best progressive rock achieves a kind of musical ecstasy by mixing and matching elements of different genres. Big Big Train, for example, brings in elements of folk and traditional British music along with symphonic and classic British prog-rock. Perfect Beings does something similar in the way they meld the traditional soft-hard dynamics of prog with symphonic, jazz and airy ’80s rock influences. None of this ever feels like imitation or even homage, though; their ambitious combination of disparate elements not just within songs, but within movements of songs, delivers tracks that are a sonic jambalaya of styles, stitched together by the group’s instinctive feel for melody and tremendous instrumental chops.

Beyond all the above blabber, here’s the clincher: I’ve listened to this album all the way through six or seven times over the past ten days and not only am I not tired of it, I continue to find myself discovering new flourishes and intricacies with every new listen. On II, Perfect Beings conjures up the perfect combination of classic prog influences and present-day imagination.  

Rating: A-

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© 2015 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of My Sonic Temple, and is used for informational purposes only.