Since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2019, Los Angeles-based quartet Pattern-Seeking Animals have been one of the prog scene’s most prolific outfits, following up with albums in 2020 (Prehensile Tales) and 2022 (Only Passing Through). Now, only a year since their previous effort, the band return with their 4th album Spooky Action at a Distance. It’s an eclectic masterpiece with captivating lyrical narratives from a Norse king’s introspection to a pregnant teenager’s quest for freedom – it guarantees a varied and intriguing musical journey!
Formed from members of the influential group Spock’s Beard, Pattern-Seeking Animals (P-SA) has previously staked a claim to its own identity, forging a new path in the prog scene. Named after a quote about human behaviour from science historian Michael Shermer, PS-A is John Boegehold (keyboards and production), Ted Leonard (lead vocals and guitar), bassist Dave Meros, and the energetic and talented Jimmy Keegan on drums.
Boegehold, known for his film scores and innovative prog compositions, initially formed the group due to the desire to find a home for material that was not quite the right fit for Spock’s Beard. Sessions took place with Leonard, Meros and Keegan, and P-SA was born. Ever since, the group has been creating music that is ‘progressive and intricate while keeping things immediate and melodic,’ with critically acclaimed albums.
Spooky Action at a Distance continues to build on the band’s prior successes while branching out into new territory. Boegehold explains, “Because this is our fourth release in less than five years, my intention was to shift gears and not go over ground that’s already been covered. In addition to using different sounds, textures and musical styles, we approached the vocals, especially backing vocals from a fairly different angle. In addition, the album was recorded, mixed and mastered at a different studio with a different engineer than our previous three releases.”
The different approach is not only noticeable in production and sounds, but in the lyrics as well. The subject matter of the lyrics include a Norse king contemplating life while being conquered; an aging seeker on the path toward enlightenment; aliens hunting down humans trying to evade capture; the life of a conflicted soldier before and after WW1; a pregnant teenager leaving a bad situation at home; a reluctant hero victorious in her final battle and a guy’s girlfriend who leaves him because of his conspiracy theories….All in all, not bad material for a set of three-chord-thrashes! (joking!!)
The Man Made of Stone is first up, sounding eerily like a Sergio Leone trailer for a Clint Eastwood Western – and maybe that sets the tone for the rest of the album, a case of “what might come next?”. This first is a nicely arranged number with some sublime guitar work – I’m not hugely familiar with the band but I’m immediately impressed but the tasty musicianship here. This could well be the dethroned and on-the-run Norse king pondering whether it had all been worth it…
The album’s first single and second track is Window to the World, a combination of reggae and high-energy, up-tempo art-rock! Again, the arrangement and musical diversity is fascinating, you genuinely wonder what will next titivate your lobes – and I say this as a “not-particularly- bothered-about-Prog” person! What Awaits Me features multi-layered synths, multi-layered vocals, it’s a carefully crafted composition that features lyrics that could be “Wandering Norse King part 2”, also posing as the aforementioned aging Seeker – either way it’s a lovely tuneful track, I get the feeling these guys can roll out melodies in their sleep!.
He Once Was follows, a twelve minute Prog epic that starts slowly and builds orchestrally with a myriad of instruments and sounds. Lyrically, this is an eloquent image of a conflicted soldier struggling to handle what he’s witnessed both on the battleground and still experiences back home. Touching. It’s followed by Underneath the Orphan Moon, a sombre ballad that deals with a teenage girl leaving home after a bad experience that her family can’t or won’t accept. It’s both evocative and cinematic, another set of insightful lyrics attached to a touching arrangement.
Clouds That Never Rain is another accomplished ballad, the eternal end-of-a-relationship, the tone and tension builds nicely. Bulletproof feels like a tale of another tortured soul, making clever use of a big chorus, sung by several backing singers? Somewhere North of Nowhere is a cracking title, it’s (I think) a post-apocalyptic tale in a conventional, lengthy prog track with some pretty impressive lead guitar work and a weird, electronically throbbing, very operatic bridge section!
Summoned From Afar is another cleverly constructed seven minute slab of Prog employing good use of wind instruments and choral singers, it’s a tale of a reluctant heroine seemingly succeeding in protecting her flock – or is it a swarm? Then the album concludes with Love Is Still The Light, this is the “Get-yer-lighters-out” anthem for live shows, I can imagine this being the closer for live sets, a paean to ever-hopeful love triumphing – you know the sort of thing….
Pattern-Seeking Animals are clearly an accomplished set of musicians and composers in their own right, this album finds them sounding confident in their ability in exploring new soundscapes and articulating tales of our times. It’s also fair to say that this album transcends “Yer Average Prog”, it’s a veritable smorgasbord of genres, always melodic and captivating, I am happy to recommend this to anyone!