…The result is a good and mature album that’s diverse and entertaining, and less overtly mainstream American than its predecessors.
As you might guess, The Aaron Clift Experiment is a group formed by…. Aaron Clift. Yes, the name is not inspiring, but you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and this album does give some legitimacy to the ‘Experiment’ tag when you listen to the contents. Clift himself sings and plays keyboards, and is accompanied by Anthony Basini (guitar), Clif Warren (bass) and Pablo Ranlett-López on drums. This is the group’s fourth release and they’ve gradually built a following, mostly in their American homeland. It’s been a five-year gap since their last opus, If All Goes Wrong, which was a typical American prog/rock effort – by which I mean more rock than prog, but with prog overtones, in the style of say Kansas or Styx. The Age Of Misinformation opens with the title track in aggressive almost prog metal fashion with staccato chords reminding me of early Rush. It hustles and bustles along in a pleasing way, with a good chorus hook. This song, and the album, has a common theme about the destructive power of lies. Clift ties the inspiration down to a very specific event: ‘During the COVID lockdown of 2020 – 2021, my friends, colleagues, and country went through an incredibly challenging time, and I knew that I had to say something about it. ‘The Age of Misinformation’ is The Aaron Clift Experiment’s document of that era’.
L.I.A.R. starts off with bubbling synths, initially giving it more of a prog feel, but the track develops into a fairly straight forward heavy rock song, reaching a good climax. Those first two tracks could well lull you into a false sense of security – you’ve got the band pigeon-holed as a typical American soft prog band, right? But what comes next is quite remarkable. Bet On Zero fully justifies that ‘Experiment’ tag as it opens totally unexpectedly with a big brass band. Yes, a big brass band of trumpets, trombones and saxes that rocks along through a vocal section that’s a little reminiscent of the style of early Billy Joel. At around the four-minute mark a lengthy instrumental section begins, consisting of a gorgeous and dreamy trombone solo, a sax solo over a funky Floydian backdrop, a more traditional guitar solo which comes to a climax with brass chords, and then rather unusually in a studio album a drum solo. The good news is that the drum solo is short so no need to panic, and it does sort of fit in to the overall feeling of improvisation that this long instrumental section generates. It also allows a necessary pause before the brass band comes swinging back in for the final vocal refrain. The song is almost eleven minutes in total and is a stunningly original composition.
While nothing can match Bet On Zero for originality, the album does continue to throw up different styles. Rise is more of a standard prog piece, with an underlying keyboard theme that will remind Genesis fans of In The Cage. And then there is the highlight of the album to these ears: The Color Of Flight. It has a beautiful acoustic guitar intro that sets the mood for a gentle and memorable melody. In addition to delicate keyboards and percussion, the soundscape is enriched by a string quartet. It’s quite a simple song at the end of the day but one where the instrumentation and production turn a good song into an outstanding one. You can close your eyes and imagine floating through the clouds while listening to it. That ability to create vivid pictures is also demonstrated on Málaga, a much more upbeat affair that is a homage to the Spanish city of the same name. ‘Speed through a sea of green and blinding white; keep going now, your dazzling city shines for you’ sings Clift and you feel like reaching for sunglasses to protect your eyes from the Mediterranean brightness as you cruise along in a cabriolet! You might have realised by now that musically this is not an album of doom and gloom to reflect the serious subject matter. Only Dark Secrets, which plays on edgy keyboards to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, is in that vein.
If All Goes Wrong was recorded in two weeks, but here the lengthy gestation of The Age Of Misinformation (principally enforced by Covid) has clearly given Clift the time to further develop the ideas and the arrangements of the songs. The result is a good and mature album that’s diverse and entertaining, and less overtly mainstream American than its predecessors. Its mix of soft prog and melodic rock will certainly appeal to many.