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3RDegree: Ones & Zeros-Vol. 1

Remember the days when bands like Sparks, City Boy, Todd Rundgren's Utopia, Max Webster, Styx, Aviary, Trillion, and The Tubes masterfully meshed soaring pop hooks with challenging, often times quirky musical prog-rock styled arrangements for a sound that was instantly engaging yet demanded more of your attention that the usual radio fare? Well, for their fifth release, New Jersey's prog veterans 3RDegree have put together a concept album that recalls the glory years of 'pomp rock' of the late '70s/early '80s. Telling the not too distant tale of how technology is taking over every aspect of our lives, Ones & Zeros: Vol. 1 sees the band sending a message to everyone about the potential pit falls of our growing hunger for technology, but they've delivered this message in a very accessible fashion, making it easily enjoyable for not only prog fans but also a more general audience as well.

Currently comprised of George Dobbs (lead vocals, keyboards), Robert James Pachman (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), Patrick Kliesch (guitar, backing vocals), Eric Pseja (guitar, backing vocals), Aaron Nobel (drums), and Bryan Zeigler (lead guitar, backing vocals), 3RDegree now have more of a 'big band' sound than ever before. It's instantly apparent from a vocal perspective, as Ones & Zeros: Vol. 1 contains rich, multi layered & textured vocal passages that instantly grab you, almost like a mix of The Beatles, Spock's Beard, Steely Dan, Sparks, Utopia, and Echolyn. Just listen to those irresistible harmonies on "Circuit Court" or "The Gravity", two instantly addicting songs that do also contain some nice musical passages, but it's the layers of vocals that really impress. Surprisingly, considering there are now three guitar players in the band, this is by no means a guitar heavy album; on the contrary, it's more about textures and colors, musically speaking, allowing for the story to really play out and the vocals to drive home the message. While there are some fantastic musical arrangements here, like the groove laden bass and tasty keyboard tapestries on "What It Means to Be Human" the dark, guitar riff driven "We Regret to Inform You" , or the dense, Rush influenced closer "More Life" (complete with a great jazzy electric piano solo!), the band seems to have been more interested in creating tight, concise interplay that supports the vocals rather than detract with solos and go off in all sorts of directions. It definitely made these songs more instantly accessible and memorable, which I think ultimately was a great choice. While some might find the appearance of robotic narrations popping up from time to time a tad strange, they play an important role in the overall concept here so it's not a distraction in my view.

3RDegree have a host of strong releases to their credit, but there's something about this latest that just instantly strikes a chord with the listener. I'm a sucker for a catchy pop hook housed within a complex or hard rocking song (all the referenced group I listed above hold a special place near my heart, and have always done that well), and the band have really done a great job telling a somewhat ominous tale and making it so enjoyable. And to think, this is only Part 1! Well done guys, can't wait to hear the rest of it!

See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!

Track Listing
1. Hello, World! (0:17)
2. The Gravity (7:51)
3. This Is The Future (4:36)
4. Life (3:08)
5. The Best & Brightest (4:06)
6. Circuit Court (5:20)
7. Life At Any Cost (8:50)
8. What It Means To Be Human (5:31)
9. We Regret To Inform You (5:23)
10. More Life (5:34)

Added: September 19th 2015
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Facebook Page
Hits: 2965
Language: english

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3RDegree: Ones & Zeros-Vol. 1
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2015-09-19 10:39:00
My Score:

The third album in the 3RDegree comeback (they disappeared for some twelve years before 2008's Narrow Caster) finds them tackling the dark concept of what may happen when we allow technology to be such an integral part of our lives, that it becomes almost impossible to decide where the tech starts and the person ends. Brain upgrade anyone? To be fair, it isn't exactly a new idea and yet the manner in which the cutting lyrics and spoken word pieces play out causes a more unsettling air, 3RDegree placing their tale in the extremely near future, rather than some distant point centuries to come. Conversely the music on Ones And Zeros remains stunningly organic; yes keyboards often drive the songs to their conclusions however the most striking aspect is the captivating layered vocals.

A jangling Jingle opens the album, introducing us to Valhalla Tech, a "company" which will take our hand and guide us through the "brave" new world of internal human artificial intelligence, devices which dictate exactly what we can and can't do and how death is reduced to an "application" rather than an event to be mourned. That this band choose to relay these thoughts through sounds which beguile and seduce in the most uplifting of fashions can seem strangely at odds with the lyrical ethos and yet what it signifies is how easily and wilfully we seem to simply and inanely pass more and more responsibilities on to machines and devices, often forgetting that simple interaction and discussion serve the same purpose in a fraction of the time. "Life" is a great example of where this album comes from, a sparse arrangement punctuated by choir like vocals (all from the band), as a strummed guitar line carries us along on the crest of sumptuous melody. At times the fusion of Steely Dan is brought to mind, "Circuit Court" darting on an organ pulse and Jazzy vocals, while "Life At Any Cost" leaves no doubt that we're dealing with a prog band adept at poppy hooks and melodies in a way few can master. A mash of quirky latter day Queen and a restrained Dream Theater suddenly pops up in "What It Means To Be Human", a song which while nodding at classic acts sounds like no one else could. "We Regret To Inform You" is another (the album is full of them) fine example of how to bring the spoken word right into the heart of the song, the concept interwoven expertly throughout the whole album.

Through Narrow Caster and 2012's The Long Division, 3RDegree have expertly gone about regaining the ground a decade-plus lay off can only lose. However with Ones & Zeros this band have gone many steps further and produced an album that captures exactly what they're all about so completely, that I have no hesitation in saying it's the most accomplished they've produced to date and capable of rivalling the best prog 2015 will throw at us and that's high praise indeed.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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