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Not Otherwise Specified: Projective Instruments

Having set the bar ridiculously high with their debut offering Judgement, Atlanta Progressives Not Otherwise Specified return with album number two Projective Instruments. In truth when I say "their" debut, what I actually mean is "his", with NOS being a one man project masterminded by multi-instrumentalist Craig Kerley, who not only plays all of the instruments in this "band", but sings and produces too. All of which he does to a sickeningly high standard.

Having a debut which garnered many admiring reviews and comments (my own included) is a double edged sword, for not only does it mean that hopefully more people will be keen to sample album number two, but also expectations levels will suddenly be very high. If it worried Kerley, it sure as heck doesn't show, for with Projective Instruments he has equalled the scope, majesty and impressive nature of Judgement, and possibly he's surpassed it. Using an, "if it ain't broke" approach, what's on offer here follows a similar path, with a keen mix of traditional Prog values colliding headlong into a bright Neo sheen and Prog Metal excursions. None of it sounds contrived, none of it comes across as force-fused. Instead Hammond backing lays the foundation for more adventurous keyboard capers and fret flurries all of which come together in the most natural, if at times hugely energetic fashion. Kerley's guitar playing is captivating, crashing with energy one moment, reserved and constrained the next, while his vocals veer from full throated wails to banks of melodies and harmonies. In truth, if your music collection contains anything from Floyd and early Crimson to Arena, The Tangent or Pallas, right across to Dream Theater or Vanden Plas, then I have no doubt Not Otherwise Specified are an outfit who you will gleefully find room and time for.

Projective Instruments opens ambitiously, a lone vocal setting the scene, before layers of voice are slowly added to create a glorious acappella beginning. To initially present in this manner an album which as it progresses builds complex passages into instantly engaging movements, while allowing an inner depth to reveal more joys across repeated listens, is brave, foolish almost. That it works beautifully for over four minutes, immediately illustrates the care and attention Kerley has crafted each of the songs here with.

Centre piece of PI comes in the shape of the five part "Racing Shadows", a song that builds and builds while ebbing and flowing through numerous themes and ideas. Keyboards set the scene, guitars add body and scope, before vocals push and shove for supremacy. In the end the winner is the song itself with motifs and themes revisited in different styles and approaches, leaving an amazingly cohesive feel to a 23 minute plus song, that is not a moment too long, or second too indulgent.

Impressively this epic doesn't overshadow its shorter album mates, with the atmospheric soothe of "Caveat" offering a clever respite from complexity and exuberance, while "Hold On" goes for the Prog Metal jugular, finding its intended target with frightening precision. "Failing" maintains the intensity, double kick drums laying a foundation for a bulging keyboard-guitar face-off (which bizarrely both end up winning) while "Signal To Noise" is a chiming melodious instrumental piece which meanders into your mind and refuses to leave. Add to that the cleansing, refreshing "Sorbet", where a 70s keyboard swirl reminds of "Focus" by Hocus Pocus, before an almost shouted, yet still melodic vocal adds an edgy slap, and the aforementioned vocal only "Harvest Soul" and Projective Instruments is an album which covers a multitude of Progressive bases, doing each and every one of them full justice. Kerley's production sparkles, but then with a mix and master provided by Jerry Guidroz (Neal Morse) was there ever going to be any doubt on how good this would sound?

Unlike so many Prog Rock/Metal crossovers, what Not Otherwise Specified serve up is neither an exercise in box ticking, or unfocused compromise. Instead Projective Instruments is remarkably focused, intensely engaging, instantly memorable and ultimately, hugely impressive. How many albums, from start to finish, can you honestly say that about?

Track Listing
1. Harvest Soul
2. Hold On
3. Failing
4. Sorbet
5. Racing Shadows
i. The Starting Line
ii. Pitfalls
iii. I'm the Man
iv. Fine Dead Song
v. Again
6. Caveat
7. Signal To Noise

Added: February 15th 2014
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Not Otherwise Specified Online
Hits: 3397
Language: english

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