Though Alan White has relinquished his drum post due to committments with the Jon Anderson-less Yes, Circa has continued to storm ahead. Their new album HQ features new drummer Jay Schellan, who joins bassist/vocalist Billy Sherwood, keyboard player Tony Kaye, and guitarist Jimmy Haun, the band continuing on with their Yes-flavored brand of AOR styled prog-rock.
It was awfully nice of Circa to kick HQ off with the near 11-minute epic "If It's Not Too Late", a melodic prog tune with plenty of Kaye's Hammond and synth tones, muscular bass lines from Sherwood (a highly underrated player), searing guitar licks from Haun, and some impressive drum chops courtesy of Schellan. Though there's a wealth of catchy hooks here, expect plenty of bombast and Yes-styled histrionics. After a brief acoustic guitar instrumental from Haun on "Haun's Solo", "False Start" lets the band dive into folk & prog waters, Sherwood's melodic vocals and bass lines driving the arrangement, with Haun delivering some especially tasty guitar work. "Chasing After Ghosts" is a more atmospheric number, and it's followed by the quirky "Set to Play", a busy instrumental track with lots of intricate bass & guitar lines, Tony Kaye not wanting to be left out and laying down some blistering Hammond solos as well. This segues into the futuristic "Ever Changing World", something that would not have sounded out of place on Yes' Tormato. Despite some funky bass grooves from Sherwood, the 9-minute "We Can Last" is a mysterious yet symphonic rocker, haunting Hammond, synths, and sinewy guitar riffs adding to what is a stellar track. Pay close attention to Haun on this one, as he lets loose with a torrent of solos that show what an undiscovered talent he really is. "Twist of Fate" is another quirky, complex prog number, and "All Intertwined" is a melodic pop song with symphonic elements, the layered lead and backing vocals of the whole band really working wonders. Closing out the set is another epic piece, the 12+ minute "Remember Along the Way", another example of the type of prog material that Yes should be writing these days, but Circa is more than happy to do in their place. All the elements are here-layers of keyboards, tasty guitar lines, intricate bass, and busy drum patterns, and the end results are challenging yet melodic.
Jay Schellan certainly made the most of his debut with Circa, and even though many might be upset that White is no longer sitting at the drum kit here, after you get a listen of what the band have to offer on HQ I don't think you'll miss him all that much. This is a stellar modern prog rock album, Sherwood almost defiant in trying to prove that he wasn't the one responsible for Yes' poppy output in the mid-late 90's. This is probably leagues better than anyone anticipated it would be, and honestly, prog fans are all the better for it.
1. If It's Not Too Late (10:50)
2. Haun Solo (1:18)
3. False Start (5:08)
4. Chasing After Ghosts (7:05)
5. Set To Play (1:49)
6. Ever Changing World (4:18)
7. We Can Last (9:16)
8. Twist of Fate (5:17)
9. All Intertwined (7:29)
10. Remember Along the Way (12:36)