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Arc of Life: Arc of Life

Here’s something; you’re technically not Yes, yet you kind of are Yes. What kind of music are you going to make? Pitbull isn’t going to be personally touched is he?! You embrace all of the signature ingredients: the tightly-wound Rickenbacker bass springing and barking from the speakers; sensitive, studious guitar work; turbulent, evolving rhythms; neon-drenched keys; immaculately-blended harmonies, and a supremely bright lead voice effortlessly projecting dizzy galactic ramblings. Those dynamics sit comfortably in these musicians’ collective wheelhouse. So, in many ways, Arc of Life already had a jump start in terms of what they sought to accomplish on this sparkling debut release.

As new recruits and spiritual heirs of Yes, vocalist Jon Davison and bass player/vocalist Billy Sherwood have endeared themselves to fans as ambassadors of the iconic band and its trailblazing legacy, while current touring drummer Jay Schallen and sometime guitarist Jimmy Haun bolster the authentic Yes pedigree. Rounded off by ex-Sound of Contact keysman Dave Kerzner, this is a smouldering collection of musicians who really know their onions (or tomatoes! For the fans, that one).

So, the base question that informs the litmus test of any potential prog’s worth is “Does it have any long tracks?”. Yes, and they both rejoice in being the centrepoints of the album; albeit ones you have to wait for as they sit back-to-back at the tail end. In ‘Locked Down’ it appears that the band have gleaned some inspiration from the doldrums of 2020. Earnestly continuing the Yes philosophy, AOL don’t grumble or lament; they promote “the easiest of answers: live and let live”. It’s cool that these guys aren’t ashamed of their propensity to stay optimistic, even celebratory. They acknowledge the darkness, but never fully enter it. This hopeful spirit is sustained throughout opus #2 ‘Therefore We Are’, with Kerzner’s unobtrusive bed of keyboards underpinning the more subdued moments that sit cushioned between the spiralling interplay.

In both tracks, tricky harmonies are generated then dissipate before the listener can acquire enough purchase on them. ‘Locked Down’ alternates between Davidson’s ethereal vocal spotlight and the band being propelled out of the gate by Sherwood and Jay Schallen (calling to mind Chris Squire and Alan White’s spritely teamwork on 1978’s ‘On the Silent Wings of Freedom’). ’Therefore We Are’ showcases a vocal mantra slowly becoming disembodied as it’s repeated with increasing layers of harmony and counterpoint vocal. These tracks work through different paces, flip the mood on a dime, and never exhaust a single idea. It’s like they’re musical journeymen seeking the ‘answer’ by working from movement to movement; building momentum, then yanking the music 90 degrees in a different direction to avoid plateauing. Full-scale arrangement is the order of the day here, so it’s easy to see why they opted for ‘Life Has a Way’ as the lead-off track as it holds all the aforementioned dynamic hallmarks well-established to the seasoned ear of progheads, buttressed by Davidson’s familiar warm blanket of glowing introspection. 

Even the more conservative moments on the record still retain a certain quirk despite their lean arrangements. ‘Talking with Siri’ and ‘Until Further Notice’ are characterized by the digitized ‘blockiness’ of 80’s Yes; calling to mind that uneasy meeting point where the proggers attempt to inject a little more cruise control, distortion and chest hair. Somewhere between antiseptic ‘professional’ recording and bald-with-a-bandana ‘rawk’: both approaches seem anathema to ambition of the musicians, and yet, the resultant mash-up produces an agitated, animatronic sound, like the sounds of the future from a 1983 vantage point.

As you may have guessed, influences aren’t exactly esoteric here. ‘Just in Sight’ has Billy Sherwood channelling Chris Squire in his more spotlight moments �" featuring a nice 7/8 groove that glides by without drawing attention to itself. Surprisingly, Jimmy Haun seems to be more taken with Trevor Rabin than with Steve Howe �" opting largely for direct, slinky hooks rather than chronicling the history of guitar via country picking and Wes Montgomery. ‘You Make It Real’ and ‘I Want to Know You Better’ in particular are steeped in Rabin-era balladry. Catchy enough to raise ears, not particularly inventive enough to raise hand to chin. However, the musicians are allowed real room to move within the comparatively prosaic structures. Consequently, we’re reminded how a ballad can be elevated when directed through the prism of Yes’ lofty aesthetic. ‘Magic of It All’ adopts a similar approach albeit with a bit more spunk and propulsion, with Sherwood’s bass chugging along to a perilously stammering groove. Davidson and Sherwood sing with contentment while the instrumental chaos swirls around them. Davidson, unable and possibly unwilling to escape his predecessor’s shadow, fully embraces his role as pie-eyed hippie optimist, a novel persona for these strung-out times.

Closer ‘The End Game’ lands the album in disconcerting fashion. Sparse, holographic bass and bare-bones percussion belie the uncooperative, flailing melody which sets its own singular course. As Jon Davison’s performance attests, vocals in the Yes tradition can’t help but sound affirmative, even when at odds with very trepidatious music: the culmination of this uneasy fusion resulting in an oddball, even disturbing atmosphere. A remarkably dense, sour closer for a song that doesn’t reach six minutes.
 If there’s one takeaway from Arc of Life’s debut effort, it’s that Yes music is a niche unto itself: It doesn’t necessarily have to feature a ‘classic’ line-up; hell, it doesn’t necessarily have to be played by Yes. It can retain the splendor, economy, exploration, and full-throttle instrumental barrage of the 70’s giants without lapsing into retread or tribute territory. Arc of Life achieves this admirably while stamping their own splashes of colour, disorientation, and occasional anxiety that could only pertain to the 21st century.


Billy Sherwood -Bass and vocals

Jon Davison -Vocals

Jay Schellen -Drums

Jimmy Haun Guitars

Dave Kerzner -Keyboards

Track Listing
1) Life Has A Way

2) Talking With Siri

3) You Make It Real

4) Until Further Notice

5) The Magic Of It All

6) Just In Sight
7) I Want To Know You Better
8) Locked Down
9) Therefore We Are
10) The End Game

Added: February 7th 2021
Reviewer: Martin Delaney
Related Link: Band Facebook Page
Hits: 1412
Language: english

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