Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Album Review: Magic Pie - King For A Day

One of the things that has kept me from diving full-fledged into progressive rock is that, to be frank, so much of it doesn't rock in the slightest. Without delving into progressive metal, a large number of the bands that fall under the umbrella dial up the progressiveness, doing everything to say how out of the mainstream they are, but they forget that progressive rock was founded on the principles of rock and roll. Seldom do these bands really tear into a heavy groove, or introduce a guitar riff that wouldn't be out of place on a Michael Buble record. It's a bit sad, since there is so obviously a place for music that manages to be both interesting on a compositional level, and punchy on a gut level.

Magic Pie is one of those bands that does try to play the kind of music I'm describing. They are absolutely rooted in the hallmarks of prog, but they also take inspiration from Deep Purple and the early hard rock bands, which not only makes their music sound unique, but provides it with an energy that is often lacking in prog.

"Trick Of The Trade", the first single, leads the album off with all the baroque abstraction you would want. Synth lines swirl, the bass pulses, and then the song segues into layered vocals that could have been pulled straight off "Rubber Soul". Between verses, the guitars riff away with some crunch, throwing some 80s rock flavor into the mix. There's a lot going on during the six minutes, but those sugar-sweet vocal harmonies tie it all together with some truly beautiful sounds. It is certainly a prog song, but it has moments that rock, and a glorious bunch of melody. Not much prog can say all of that, and Magic Pie did it in the span of one track.

"Introversion" doubles the running time, which gives the band time to stretch out their ideas and relax the pace a bit. There's plenty of inventive interplay between the vintage crunch of the guitars and the prominent roar of the organs, and it all leads up to more sections with those massive layers of vocals. They are seriously beautiful, and make every section where they appear sound larger than life. They, and the particular kind of melodies I'm hearing, are a pure throwback to the late 60s and early 70s, and it's all done so well that it can't help but put a smile on my face. There's something about that particular style that is timeless.

That pattern repeats over the next four songs, alternating shorter, more energetic songs with the longer, more progressive ones. It's a simple trick to make sure we aren't being given too much to digest at any one time, and it works. There's enough push and pull in the sequencing to keep the record's flow where it needs to be.

That middle section of songs lack a bit of the fire of the opening two, but they lead into the massive, twenty-seven minute title track, which closes the album in epic fashion. Opening with five minutes of jazzy instrumental work, the song segues into one that sounds remarkably like it could be one of Transatlantic's many epics. The melodic construction in the first vocal section, as well as the keyboard tones used, are highly reminiscent of Neal Morse's contributions. Don't take any of this as a criticism. Transatlantic is one of the best bands on the planet, so sounding like them is not at all a bad thing.

My only complaint about the track would be that the balance between the proggy instrumental sections, and the vocal passages, is skewed. For as long as the track is, I wanted more vocal hooks to keep me invested. The playing goes off for minutes at a time on intricate runs, and it's easy for me to lose focus and drift away. The playing is highly impressive, but it's asking a lot of the listener. When those vocal sections do come in, they're killer, so my displeasure is slight.

Overall, "King For A Day" is a tremendous example of how modern prog can indeed rock. There's a lot to like about this record, and even if there are some flaws, they're the kind that are easy to live with. If you're looking for something to fill the void between Transatlantic albums, and Neal Morse's new album isn't doing it for you (you're not alone, trust me), Magic Pie might be just what you're looking for.

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