February 7, 2024

It is wholly possible that some readers will not be familiar with the trans-American outfit Today Was Yesterday. The duo of California-based drummer Ty Dennis and Chicago multi-instrumentalist Angelo Barbera are just releasing their 46-minute debut album on Mascot’s prog label Music Theories Recordings. This is no fresh-faced kid band though; the pair have been playing together on and off since the ‘90s as sidemen to the stars – they met when both playing for The Motels featuring Martha Davis, and both have also done stints with Doors founder guitarist Robby Krieger in the Doors Of The 20th Century.

Angelo is the main songwriter, but his original material was admittedly a set of basic sketches until Ty brought his creative energies to bear on them. Both musicians are heavy into the programming side of music too, which would ensure a muti-layered and lush soundscape in any case, but the genius of this particular album is that they have managed to score a guest spot from Bobby Krieger himself, and a massive amount of input from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, who is featured on no less than six of the ten songs – bear in mind that both Krieger and Lifeson are Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers.

Prog is probably the closest-shaped hole in which to jam this particular peg, although the guys don’t mess about with weird time signatures all that much; instead the atmos and ambience is generated by creative soundscapes and rich layering. Opening number Grace is basically a mid-tempo rock number, with an intro ukulele (or really high guitar) leading into a crunching rock riff. Two minutes in and the power drops completely as we are treated to a quietly tasteful melodic section before it builds again into something approaching the original riff.

Second number A Louder Silence opens with yowling guitar noises and a strident synth note over clear-toned guitar arpeggios, then settles into a 1980s funky rock rhythm that recalls Don’t Kill The Whale by Yes, or some of the ‘80s Genesis material. Scratchy fuzz, deep phase and reverb adorn the screaming guitar yell, which actually fits the number surprisingly well, creating a texture without overpowering the number.

OK, they do go full prog for the gentle but complex arrangement of On My Own, which drifts in and out of 10/8 time and drops in a bit of Spanish guitar – there’s also a nice electric guitar solo, presumably from Lifeson, but seeing as pretty well everyone in the room plays guitar of one sort or another, I’m not going to be too dogmatic on the subject.

These first three numbers all feature Lifeson in fact, but Ed Roth comes on board for the mid-tempo four-to-the-floor rock of I Take All. It features a great organ solo that modulates through various keys, and is driven along by a rumbling, craggy bass. Lifeson then comes back for the energetic My Dog Is My God, with its weirded out, almost Dr Who synth line, carnival waltz-time section and screaming, heavily effected guitar solo. Faceless Faraway Song also features Lifeson, an atmospheric and ambient number with heavily effected vocals, and coil-tapped and chorused lead guitar.

The venerable Robby Krieger comes on board for If I Fall, which starts with a lot of splashy cymbals, introducing sparse, fretless bass and a wonky rhythm that’s proggier than anything else in the set. A deep, fuzzy guitar solo might even be played on a baritone guitar, but there is a more normal solo later, which evaporates into a morass of reverb at the end. Rukus is something of an instrumental, although it opens with the briefest snatch of a spoken radio broadcast, which is sometimes audible during other parts of the song too. Borrowed is another Genesis-style number, reminiscent of Land Of Confusion, with a stumbling rhythm that gradually smooths out as it rolls along.

For me though, the highlight of the whole set is the final number, My New Low, again featuring Lifeson. It starts on slow, rhythmic percussion and heavily chorused guitar, then wafts along on a modal scale driven by a simple bass line, before drifting into mellow pop-rock and back again. A beautiful guitar solo fades out slightly after the background, but there is a piano in there that becomes audible as the rest of the band exits, playing a few beautiful chords. Sweet.

The guys never really intended to be a duo; they auditioned a number of singers, but couldn’t really make any of them work – hence Angelo Barbera handles vocal duties himself. His voice is soft, but still has an aggressive edge, and drifts along inside the music rather than sitting on top as a more strident lead vocalist might have done. This is probably all to the good, bearing in mind the thick ambience of the songs. The pair share production as well as playing all the instruments, (guest spots notwithstanding), and while they make clear that they enjoy helping other people realise their musical vision, it makes a nice change to be in the driving seat at last. Personally, I hope we hear a lot more from them.

Those desperate to hear more from Lifeson or Krieger could do worse than check out the recent EP from Lifeson’s new band Envy Of None, or the debut release from Robby Krieger And The Soul Savages, both reviewed on these pages.

Today Was Yesterday’s self-titled debut album is released on 23 February 2024 via Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group