ALBUM REVIEW - Spock’s Beard's "Noise Floor"

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Spock’s Beard

Noise Floor

InsideOut Music

If there’s anything that’s worked against Spock’s Beard over the last twenty-plus years it’s a sense of restraint. Some of the band’s progressive rock contemporaries have chosen solos over songs, but the Spock’s way has always been to underplay its virtuosity. Alan Morse’s lead guitar work in “This Is Life,” for instance, might go largely undetected the first three or four times you hear the song. Your focus, instead, falls on the fine vocal harmonies and the tune’s emotional colors.

The same may be said for keyboardist Ryo Okomuto’s work. His sense of restraint and taste are legion in progressive rock circles. He has a voice and power that can place him shoulder-to-shoulder with his contemporary Jordan Rudess but it’s not the thing he reaches toward. “Bulletproof,” which on at least one occasion recalls Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” is exemplary of said approach. Okumoto lends warmly emotive piano parts for most of the song, deftly complimenting vocalist Ted Leonard until about the three-minute mark when the synths kick in and carrying listeners on a fantastical journey. (Think a more subtle rendition of the mind-bending synth odyssey of Styx’s “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).”)

His team player tendencies are on display on the bonus edition instrumental “Armageddon Nervous” and on the blazing album cut “One So Wise.” But in both he’s not trying to outshine Morse or Leonard as much as he’s seeking to elevate them. If it’s all a bit too polite at times, if it gives the listener a sense that Okumoto and his mates (including drummer Nick D’Virgilio who returns after a seven-year absence) are holding something back, then so be it. The music’s better for it.