‘Noise Floor’ is the American proggers 13th studio release and their first since 2015's ‘The Oblivion Particle’. The band's line up, which has been subject to a bit of a revolving door approach over time, for this record, consists of Ted Leonard on main vocal duties and guitar, Alan Morse, brother of Neal, also on guitar, Dave Meros on bass, Ryo Okumoto on keys and, back in the fold for this recording, original drummer Nick D'Virgilio, also of Big Big Train amongst others. Rather like Mike Portnoy, D'Virgilio seems to have involvement in numerous projects and it remains to be seen if he plays live with the band again.
The album kicks off with the gloriously immediate, accessible and catchy 'To Breathe Another Day' which is a sort of prog/AOR hybrid and brings to mind bands such as Kansas and Toto. 'What Becomes of Me' follows in a similar, if not quite as catchy, vein before we come to the wonderful 'Somebody's Home'. The track begins with a gentle acoustic intro, with an almost medieval style feel and accompaniment by what sounds like an oboe to these untrained ears. This gentle vibe continues throughout the song, only punctuated at intervals by the chorus, which features a huge riff and some impassioned vocals from Leonard. A great composition!
'Have We All Gone Crazy Yet' follows, an up-tempo commentary, verging on a rant, on modern life and, possibly, on America in the days of Trump, featuring a keyboard intro one of the new wave of British prog bands of the early 80s would be proud to lay claim to. Next up is 'So This Is Life', another gently beautiful track with a calm, laid back feel complete with Beatles-esque harmonies.
The pace picks up once more with the energetic 'One So Wise', with a bassline reminiscent of Pearl Jam and some great keyboard work, before we come to the last two tracks on the main release, 'Box of Spiders' and 'Beginnings'. The former is a jagged, angular instrumental, definitely the most 'prog' moment on this recording, while the latter is a mid-tempo effort with yet more excellent keys work and a strong vocal performance.
Following on from the album proper, is the four track bonus EP, ‘From The Cutting Room Floor’. The first track, 'Days We'll Remember' is a mid-tempo song, being more in the AOR mould with a smattering of prog stylings. Next up is 'Bulletproof', which is similar to its predecessor in its sound. 'Vault' follows, sounding more like classic prog with a somewhat heavier approach before we reach the EP closer, 'Armageddon Nervous' which follows in the footsteps of 'Box of Spiders' from the main release, another instrumental which allows the band to show off their musical prowess.
All in all, this is a really good effort from the band. There has been some dissatisfaction over the years among elements of the fan base due to the changes in line-up and subsequent shifts, although hardly seismic, in the group's direction. However, there is plenty here that should greatly please Spock's Beard fans, both old and new and, if you're new to the band, this would be an excellent place to find out what lies behind the rather quirky name.
Review by Dave Uphill
51:57 & 17:08
25th May 2018
CD1: 1) To Breathe Another Day; 2) What Becomes of Me; 3) Somebody's Home; 4) Have We All Gone Crazy Yet?; 5) So This Is Life; 6) One So Wise; 7) Box of Spiders; 8) Beginnings
CD2: 1) Days We'll Remember; 2) Bulletproof; 3) Vault; 4) Armageddon Nervous
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...there is plenty here that should greatly please Spock's Beard fans, both old and new..."