Yet another perfect example of how this band can write short and dense but very commercial prog songs.
It’s a common occurrence for a musician to take time away from a band to set-up their own project or to leave a band permanently citing artistic differences. Often, such breaks can be difficult and become conflictual. In the case of John Boegehold, the relationship with the mothership seems strangely incestuous rather than incendiary. Pattern-Seeking Animals consist of two current Spock’s Beard members in Ted Leonard (guitars, vocals) and Dave Meros (bass), a former member in drummer Jimmy Keegan, as well as Boegehold himself of course. At the time of the band’s formation, Boegehold stated that he had copious material that was not quite the right fit for Spock’s Beard, yet he still wished to continue to create music that was ‘progressive and intricate while keeping things immediate and melodic.’ That I personally find a little strange since those words are not only a good description of the music of Pattern-Seeking Animals, but also a good description of the music of Spock’s Beard! In any case, Pattern-Seeking Animals have been prolific by modern standards. The eponymously titled debut album was released in 2019 and the very well-received Prehensile Tales in 2020. With barely a blip for Covid, the third Pattern-Seeking Animals opus, Only Passing Through now sees the light of day.
At a superficial glance, the set of ten tracks hints at a simpler style, compared to say the six-tracks of Prehensile Tales. To some degree it is true since the only track that breaches double figures here is the thirteen-minute Time Has a Way, but concise certainly does not equate to simple because Boegehold knows how to pack a prog punch into five minutes. Actually, he knows to pack a prog punch into two minutes and fifty seconds as he amply demonstrates in the opener Everdark Mountain. Between odd-rhythms, odd sounds (I believe he’s playing a ukulele!) and dark lyrics that hint at an existential crisis (‘Some lives are written in the stars Mine was scribbled in the dust’), there’s a lot to chew on in less than three minutes. Rock Paper Scissors is another short track that might well be the highlight of the album. It’s superficially a celebration of childhood and childhood games, playing on the melody of the nursery rhyme London Bridge Is Falling Down. But it also hints at the violence the children will face as adults. There’s a strong part for the violin here and the chorus phrase is delivered by a children’s choir adding to the ambivalence about the real meaning of the song. Boegehold’s lyrics are very clever in this sense, allowing for multiple interpretation. The same could be said for Much Ado, an entertaining boogie with a little guitar intro that reminded me of Life In The Fast Lane by the Eagles. The title itself is a Shakespearean hint about the topic of the song: nothing. With lines like ‘That’s right this song’s about nothing, cause nothing’s better than what’s real’, I was left wondering whether this was just a tongue-in-cheek view of serious prog lyrics, or whether there was a serious intent that I missed. One track with a very clear lyrical meaning is the short title track which is a reflection on the transience of life with the line ‘The clock’s unwinding each and every one of us, we’re only passing through’ being the source of both the song and the album name. It starts off modestly like a straightforward pop ballad but has lots of effective touches such as the climatic sweeping strings and machine-gun harmonies on the word ‘Everybody’. Yet another perfect example of how this band can write short and dense but very commercial prog songs.
Of the longer tracks, I Can’t Stay Here Anymore is a highlight. It’s one of the more upbeat numbers, driven by a funky bass line from Meros. In the second part, the chorus line, which had been barely audible over insistent drumming earlier, returns impressively with a beautiful warm melody. Said The Stranger starts off with some Yes-like harmonies but then switches to a galloping rhythm as if to accompany some Western movie, but remains a bit of an oddity. Time Has A Way raised high expectations because of its length but for me it disappoints a little. There are very strong moments – the Kansas-like main vocal section, the gorgeous interaction between violin and horn at the mid-way stage, and the lonely horn solo at the end, but overall it feels a little disjointed to these ears and the themes lack the inspiration needed to hold a long piece together.
As a prog fan, when listening to any new album my interest tends to be drawn towards the longer tracks. I’m always on the lookout for the long and epic pieces that prog is known (and also derided) for. Listening to Pattern-Seeking Animals, I instead found the shorter pieces captivating while the longer pieces struggled to trigger the same reaction. This certainly isn’t straight forward music to absorb and understand so maybe the fault is with me – one could say that this particular pattern-seeking animal is not able to spot the patterns in the longer tracks! Despite these concerns, Only Passing Through is certainly a fine album, probably topping Prehensile Tales, and consolidating the band’s position in the prog firmament. Recommended for all fans of the Spock’s Beard family tree.