Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Album Review: The Aaron Clift Experiment - Outer Light, Inner Darkness

This year, so far, has been a down year for progressive music. While the last couple of years have found me diving deeper into those waters, and walking away with some of my favorite albums of those years, I have not had the same luck this time around. For whatever reason, this has been a year defined by simplicity, and not even some of my favorite artists of the kind have been able to bring me back into the fold. The Aaron Clift Experiment has a better chance than many of those, because their take on progressive rock is not as mind-numbingly expansive as many, as the majority of the songs on display here are of manageable length, with only one headed past the ten minute barrier. It seems odd to say, but that's how I like my prog.

The album opens with "Kissed By The Sun", which introduces us to the band's sound with a riff of open guitar chords, and a striking bit of violin over the top. It catches you a bit off-guard to be introduced to those elements so early, but I like the choice very much. The violin work that weaves throughout the background is one of the best elements of the song, the sort of embellishment that can provide a lot of depth in just a few notes. There's also a surprising heaviness to the chorus sections, as the band locks together in a solid rock groove. Aaron's vocals don't have the personality that someone like Roine Stolt has, but he's a solid enough vocalist, and the melodies are lively.

A few jazz influences pop up during the instrumental section of that song, and those follow in the bass and electric piano groove of "Locked". The song is a highly melodic number that balances feelings of hope and melancholy. It's very pleasant, and its subdued nature showcases the searing lead guitar work that is prominent on the album.

Things get a little unfocused from there. "Fragments Of Sleep" lives up to the title, feeling a bit like a pastiche, a bit of song written solely to get to the counterpoint vocal section that closes it out. Neither half of the song works especially well, and together they just don't seem to fit. The following "Your Arms Hold Them To The Dark" is a thankfully short song that borrows the pace from doom, but doesn't have anything resembling a groove or melody to balance it out. It's a drag, and one of those songs that I'm not sure why musicians love to write.

"Aoide, Goddess Of Song" rights the ship, although it does sound a bit too much like the cloying stereotype of Christian rock. It's a pleasant song, but I can see why it could be considered too saccharine for most people. Much of this is proven by the nearly entirely instrumental "The Last Oasis", which uses the mix of guitars and strings to great effect, and has more heart in it than most of the songs with vocals.

We finish out the album with two more lengthy tracks, both of which move far too slowly, testing my patience. I've never much understood the appeal of atmospheric music, and these songs veer hard in that direction, not offering up riffs to glean onto. The appeal is very limited, given just how subdued the songs are for the entirety of the closing twenty minutes of the record.

I don't want to be too harsh on this album, but there are seriously glaring flaws that I feel I need to point out. The entire back half of the record is lacking any life at all, and once the first two tracks are over, Aaron barely has a melody to sing that's worthwhile. The band clearly has talent, and there are some nice instrumental ideas here, but the songs just don't have enough here for me to recommend the album. It's pleasant progressive rock, but that's about it.

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