Hands are one of those prog bands that originated in the 70's during the 'classic boom' of prog, but never actually made much of a name for themselves except in underground circles, which is really a shame considering just how solid their material is. Hailing from Texas, Hands have seen many musicians come and go over the years during their brief moments of recorded activity, and currently the band are a sextet consisting of original members Ernie Meyers on guitars & vocals and Michael Clay on keyboards & sax, plus Warr guitarist Mark Cook, drummer John Fiveash, Martin McCall on drums & percussion, and bassist Steve Powell. Strangelet, their new CD, is actually their second release this decade, 2002's Twenty Five Winters being their triumphant return after a lengthy hiatus.
As you make your way through Strangelet, you can hear the occasional influence of such acts as Gentle Giant, Yes, King Crimson, Kansas, and Jethro Tull pop up here and there, which should surprise no one if you've loved the band's self-titled debut from 1977 or the follow-up collection Palm Mystery, yet there are also some modern sounds creeping in that might remind you of current acts like The Tangent or The Flower Kings. "Dark Matter" is the big epic of the album, a 15-minute long prog rock gem, featuring no shortage of vintage sounding keyboard textures from Clay and lots of interplay between Myers and Cook. This piece is dramatic, symphonic, and highly melodic, with plenty of catchy vocals and excellent instrumental bits. The somewhat haunting and jazzy "Tambourin" allows Clay to show off his exquisite piano skills, while "Running Room" is a dark prog monster, with rumbling Hammond organ and beefy guitar riffs from Myers providing plenty of muscle, yet the vocal melodies almost remind of The Beatles at times, which makes for a nice contrast. Some of the instrumental sections on this one have that Red-era King Crimson feel. The quirky instrumental "Entry of the Shiny Beasts" follows, this one a great vehicle for the two drummers and Clay's nimble keyboard lines, with Myers and Cook eagerly following along. Add in some smoky sax and you have a fun Canterbury flavored piece. The band goes for a more straightforward approach on "Miracle In the Mind", a song that has a lot in common with the material that Spock's Beard have been releasing the last few years, featuring catchy vocal hooks, tight rhythms, vintage styled keys, and layers of acoustic and electric guitars. The last track "Rotten" was recorded live, and is a raging instrumental rocker with Myers and Cook really grinding it out, and again, the comparisons to King Crimson are instantly apparent. A killer, killer track.
If you've doubted whether Hands could come up with another winner, think again. Strangelet is an extremely strong modern prog release, with a few songs that border on absolute brilliance, showing that these veterans are still capable of being more than relevant in todays progressive rock landscape.
1. Strangelet 0:41
2. Dark Matter 15:12
3. Tambourin 5:42 9
4. Running Room 7:12
5. Entry of the Shiny Beasts 3:53
6. Miracle In the Mind 9:48
7. Rotten 6:40