Monday, August 1, 2016

Mythology III: The Search for Relevance (an album review)

Today’s blog entry is something a little different (and it’s my first post in a long time; I really should do this more often).

This is only the second time the focus here is on music. The first was my review of Led Zeppelin’s concert film Celebration Day several years ago.

Today, I’ll be reviewing an album I just heard for the first time a few days ago: The Search for Relevance, the third album from the band MYTHOLOGY. 

Here's the cover! 

First, a bit of background. My interest in music is currently at a level it hasn’t been at in years. There was a time when music was my primary interest. I played guitar for several years in my late teens and early twenties (though at the time I didn’t have the discipline to get much further with it than amusing myself by Jimmy Paging my way around the basement) and spent many of my evenings with a band composed of friends of mine (I miss those days and those guys!).

But that was a long time ago and in the intervening years music became part of the background of my life and not a focus. I’ve always loved music, but I sort of drifted away from taking an active interest in it.
That changed recently. I began to listen more. And having more energy due to a change to a job that leaves me a little less stressed out at the end of the workday, I’ve picked up the guitar again and have learned more in a few months than I did in those years of my youth, probably due to the fact that I’m learning the right way now, with patience and work instead of strutting around trying to impress myself with noise! That’s not to say I’m any good at it yet, but I can feel a bit of improvement each day.

So, yes, music is back on my mind a lot of the time. And now I have this album in front of me and I like it enough to sit here and write about it.

Mythology’s drummer, Jordan Morrissey, is a coworker of mine. I make it a habit to seek out the creative people around me, whether they be writers, artists, or musicians. Jordan was kind enough to send me links to some short samples of the songs on the album and I liked them enough to buy the whole disc … and I am very glad I did! 

I popped it into my car’s CD player as I drove home during a powerful rainstorm a few days ago and I was impressed right from the start. 

Mythology is a three-piece band consisting of  the previously mentioned Jordan Morrissey on drums and backing vocals, Brynen A. Sosa on guitar and lead vocals, and Dane Carmichael on bass and backing vocals. The album also features some work on violin, piano, and a French horn.

Here's the band in a picture swiped from Twitter! 

The music of Mythology falls into the category of Progressive Rock, but I see no need for me to give it any further labels, because good music is good music and this album has sections that could fall into several subgenres of rock, and I see various influences at work. Or maybe I should say I can guess at various influences, since I can’t read the band members’ minds.

And, speaking of not reading minds or otherwise guessing at things, there are places in this review where I do guess at certain things I think I hear being done within the songs. If any of these semi-educated guesses of mine happen to be wrong, I would welcome a correction should any of the band members feel one is needed.    

But enough of my long preamble. What’s the album actually like? Okay, here we go …

It opens with a long epic, “Swashbuckling Swashbucklers,” which should (if the listener has any taste whatsoever) have you hooked from the beginning. It immediately proves that Mythology is a tight, skilled trio of musicians. Like the best power trios, (Cream comes to mind) Mythology manages to always have something going on, so there’s no empty air, while still allowing each of the three musicians plenty of time in the spotlight. Sosa’s guitar work is outstanding and bounces all over the place in this opening track, ably aided by Carmichael’s bass lines, which stand out too, which is always good, as it’s far too easy for the bass to get lost in a mix. Morrissey’s drumming changes style several times during the song, each time complementing the other musicians superbly, except of course for that long stretch in the middle when the drums fall silent, but that too fits the song’s style. The best thing about “Swashbucklers” just might be the lyrics. These are good lyrics, evoking images, telling a story, and sounding—this might sound weird—surprisingly English for a band from New Jersey, but I mean that as a compliment! The words take on a well-phrased storytelling style that had me thinking of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull or the songs of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, with the subject matter being somehow distantly related to Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song,” though more complex than Zep’s short battle hymn, as well as to Cream’s “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” Overall, “Swashbucklers” is an excellent opening, justifying its 8 minute length by going through a number of stylistic changes, all of which work well as parts of a whole, while giving a good demonstration of what each of the three band members is capable of.

The second track, “Armenian Blues #5,” is an instrumental, and a very good one. In an interesting combination of grace and power, Sosa’s guitar in the first section of this song sings a long string of graceful melodic phrases punctuated by sudden barrages of power chords, while the drums match pace with each of the changes. Behind that, the bass thumps along in a way that fits the song but stands slightly apart, bouncing to its own rhythm, which makes this feel like 2 songs for the price of 1, and that’s a very good deal. But the surprises aren’t over. At the halfway mark, Sosa’s guitar switches to an exotic acoustic sound that shows the influence of Django Reinhardt and again changes the tone of the piece. There is so much going on in this song that it’s possible to listen three times and have a completely different experience each time, simply by focusing on its various components. On one of the album’s later tracks, Sosa says, “You probably wouldn’t listen to this song if it was an instrumental!” Sometimes (and I’ve done this too) there are reasons why listeners skip the instrumentals. Instrumentals can seem boring if there’s not enough going on to justify the lack of lyrics or tell a compelling story without words, or, on the other side of the coin, they can seem like show-off pieces, nothing more than musical masturbation for someone to prove how fast or how complicated their playing can be. “Armenian Blues #5” is not guilty of either of those charges. It is well worth listening to and you won’t even notice it has no vocals. It is not an instrumental for the sake of being an instrumental, but a song that has everything it needs and then some!

The third song, “To Those We’ve Lost,” is the gentlest on the album and perhaps the best lyrically. It starts with Sosa’s acoustic guitar work, slow and sad, with just a sprinkling of Morrissey’s percussion as an accent. Then the vocals come in and, I must admit, those words are so beautifully composed that they had me choked up a bit the first time I listened. I will not repeat any of the lyrics here, because you need to hear them for yourself, but they paint a vivid picture of regret and loneliness. This is a song I can appreciate both as a music lover and as a writer. And it’s not just the story it tells that makes it work, it’s what the texture of the music adds to the tale that makes it (at least this time, upon my fourth listen to the album) my current favorite on the disc. By the way, if whoever is reading this is a fan of Led Zeppelin, listen for the sparingly used upstrokes on certain chords that give it, in a few places, a very “Rain Song” vibe. “To Those We’ve Lost” is wonderful on all counts.

Next, for the fourth track, comes the album’s big risk, “Sosa’s Requiem.” If this had been done slightly differently, it might have sunk the whole experience. It’s one thing to have certain opinions about the current state of music. We’re all entitled to our opinions. It’s another thing entirely to etch those feelings permanently on an album and have the nerve to call the majority of modern bands “diarrhea.” A world famous act can come across as irritating by doing something even remotely like that (see Bob Segar’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” which is the world’s second most annoying song, after only the Three’s Company theme!), so it’s risky (and courageous) for a band without a huge reputation to stick something like that on their record. To make a somewhat vulgar analogy, if you’re going to write a song bragging about the size of your cock, you’d damn well better be able to back it up with a riff the size of “Whole Lotta Love.” Well, the good news is that the risk paid off and the song works, not only because all the complaints Sosa sings are opinions I agree with (there’s some newer music I like, but it’s been a long time since I heard something that made me NEED to buy it NOW), but because he and his band mates back the string of verbal jabs up with a very good piece of music, showing that Mythology does indeed have the musical skill, if not the fame (yet? One can only hope), to legitimize their stance on the issue. Musically, the song contains a fun main guitar riff complemented by a prominent bass line and a very busy drummer who sounds like he’s grown a few tentacles to help with certain parts of this one. There’s also a good guitar solo with a tone that strongly reminds me of something, though I can’t quite place it as I write this. But, getting back to the song’s subject, halfway through the piece Sosa sings, “Is there anyone who feels the same?”  In many ways, I do, and I’ll say this: I miss Pink Floyd, too, Brynen. I really do.

Now we come to the album’s second instrumental, with it’s odd title of “Shmuley Boteach.” Okay, here’s the story, according to the singer as he introduced the song to a live audience in a YouTube video I watched: Shmuley Boteach is a rabbi, author, and TV host (go look him up on Wikipedia if you want), whose name stuck in Mr. Sosa’s head just because it sounds so strange … and now it’s stuck in my head, damn it all to hell! So, since it’s an instrumental and there are no lyrics to base the title on, the name that will stick in your head like an arrow now belongs not only to a man but to a song! Why not? Having Googled Shmuley Boteach out of curiosity, I’ve decided he looks like actor Bradley Cooper with a beard. 

But enough about the origin of the song’s name. What about the song itself? It begins with a steady drum beat behind a nicely melodic guitar line that sounds somewhat Middle Eastern and is then joined by another prominent bass line (have I mentioned how much I love that the bass doesn’t get lost in the mix on this album?). This continues throughout the song’s three and a half minutes with enough variations to keep it interesting. It’s the album’s shortest song (not counting the 29 second epilogue “The March of May”), just a quick little paragraph of interesting sound.

And after that short one we get to the longest piece, a 13 minute science fiction rock novel of a song called “Return to Planet Zeblos,” which is then subdivided into four sections, but I’m too lazy to try to figure out exactly where each chapter begins and ends. Anyway, I’d much rather just go with the ride it takes us on. Lyrically and vocally, there’s a bit of Bowie sprinkled in, and that’s always a good thing! It doesn’t feel like thirteen minutes, because there’s nothing repetitive or monotonous about it. The tempo keeps changing, the drumming goes through a galaxy of shifts in style, and the guitar and bass keep doing interesting things. The science fiction feel of the piece is added to by some effects, but only to the point where they enhance the song without overwhelming the music. Restraint is always vest when it comes to effects. Perhaps the best thing about “Zeblos” is how it manages to connect to the progressive rock of the 70s (does anybody else remember Starcastle?), while seeming not like a relic or throwback to that era, but like the next grandchild in that same family tree (or maybe solar system?). That’s quite an accomplishment and a very good way to end the album.     

That covers all the songs on The Search for Relevance. It’s an excellent collection from start to finish.

A few closing thoughts:
I do not feel as if I just reviewed an album by someone I met at work. This ceased to be me reviewing the music of a “local band” the minute I heard that first track. This is a polished, professional piece of work that I truly wish was getting massive amounts of radio play right now. I hope this review will inspire other people to check out Mythology’s music. Getting to hear this has been one of the best bonuses of starting that new job of mine! I’m as happy to have this CD included in my collection as I am any of the other discs on my shelf.
And I’m thrilled to know that there are two previous Mythology albums, and I intend to listen to those as soon as I can get my hands on them.

Here’s a link to Mythology’s website. 
 Please give these guys a listen. They deserve it, and so do you!