Spending too much time reflecting or rehashing the reasons why American rock outfit Glass never managed to scale the progressive rock summit during their first go round in the mid to late 70's seems kind of pointless, especially when the second chapter of their career has so far yielded such staggering works of beauty as Illuminations (2005), and the long awaited follow up Spectrum Principle, out now on Musea Records.
It's been a long five year years but as soon as the listener dives into Spectrum Principle the long wait between albums goes out the window as the band, which is centered around the dual keyboard interplay between the Sherman brothers, Greg (keys, piano, organ) and Jeff (bass, guitars, keys, samples), along with Jerry Cook (percussion, samples), have in my opinion created their most comprehensive and diverse sounding disc to date.
This time around, and for the first time really, the band chose have Cook guide the creative process, so perhaps this partly explains why the music is distinctly more abstract in places. However, that being said they still manage to remain steeped in their traditional symphonic progressive rock sound which utilizes a lot of vintage, analog keyboards and synthesizers. I'm often surprised at how often the word 'progressive' is bandied about to describe bands claiming to operate in the prog rock genre, but Glass in my opinion remains the very epitome of the definition.
While I've never really considered the band's music to be overly complex, and this is not meant as a slight towards the incredible talents that these three musicians possess, but I love how instead they mostly rely on penetrating the heart and soul of the listener through beautifully sculpted pieces of music that touch on a myriad of different emotions. On Spectrum Principle it's clear that each one of these fourteen compositions were designed for that very reason. The early one two combination of "Apathy" and "Empathy" kicks things into full flight as the former relies on some absolutely sumptuous, vintage synth and Fender Rhodes passages, while the latter is a gorgeous combination of Greg's subtle piano playing layered over top a lush mellotron painted backdrop. "Blue Wednesday" features more of those magnificent, liquid like, sounding beads of notes on the Rhodes while Greg's melancholic approach on the Hammond B-3 invokes images of the late Jimmy Smith working a smoke filled jazz club. "Saturation" much like "Medicine Man" on Illuminations, is a dazzling percussive workout for Cook, as he skillfully layers his tribal beats and accents them with plenty of crisp cymbal crashes. The sound and production throughout this disc is outstanding, but just downright massive on this multi-faceted drum centered composition. This segues seamlessly into "Emptiness" which gradually develops into more of an atmospheric, ambient piece of music anchored by Jeff Sherman's languid and repetitive bass pattern underneath Cook's philosophical ruminations and various different sounds and effects.
The second half of Spectrum Principle begins with "Fulfillment", an upbeat sounding number that has an aura of Pink Floyd about it as the delicately strummed acoustic guitar is swathed in the warm rich layers that only a mellotron can provide. Another majestic piece of music is the brief "Awaken" which moves directly into "Atonement". After commencing with some swirling organ and keyboard passages, the track breaks down into a brief acoustic guitar interlude, before picking up almost where it left off. I say this because this track transforms itself on several different occasions, thus making for what certainly has to be one the band's most abstract sounding composition to date. At times this song sounds like a tip of the hat to ELP, as both Greg Sherman and Jerry Cook engage in a bit of Emerson and Palmer fueled pyrotechnics before they once again return to the main theme to bring the song to its conclusion. "Edge" is another composition that really highlights their compositional genius as spacey synth passages intertwine perfectly with a multitude of cascading piano notes as Jeff and Jerry lock into a driving, muscular rhythmic groove. The majestic sounds of the mellotron return once again to dominate on "Hope", before the disc wraps up with the splendid, ambient sound collage that makes up "Destiny".
In today's rapidly increasing world of technology, where it's more about how to access music faster and more conveniently, and where the album format doesn't seem to hold as much weight as the preferred model as it did in the past, it's comforting to know that Glass understands how to craft music that not only touches on a wide range of emotions, but they also realize that cohesiveness and flow are absolutely vital to the overall listening experience.
I think the true measure of musical genius is when you can wear your influences on your sleeve and yet still deliver something completely unique and original every time. Spectrum Principle is another masterpiece from Glass, and one which clearly shows that they really have no interest in resting on their laurels at this point in their career as they continue to further evolve and carve out new directions with their music. Spectrum Principle should definitely be regarded as one of the best progressive rock releases of 2010.
5) Blue Wednesday
9) Spectrum In Principle