What would you do if your drummer and bassist quit? The remaining members of Perfect Beings — vocalist/keyboardist Ryan Hurtgen, keyboardist Jesse Nason and guitarist Johannes Luley — upped the ante. Their goal became “a four-sided double vinyl album with four continuous compositions that cover one side of each album,” with Luley on bass and sessioneer Ben Levin on drums.
Adding to the degree of difficulty, Perfect Beings’ second goal was avoiding the dead spots some listeners (including me) find in their obvious model, Yes’ divisive Tales from Topographic Oceans. I’m happy to say the band’s superb new album Vier (German for “four”) succeeds on both counts. It’s sound is spacious and elegant, but it’s not about style over substance, The music is thoroughly, consistently enticing; something marvelous is always happening, and the band’s sense of invention seems inexhaustible.
Setting the scene of opening side Guedra, the high harmonies, odd-time riffs and low brass foundation of “A New Pyramid” unfold at a measured pace — then grind to an unexpected halt. Dramatic balladry (“The Blue Lake of Understanding”) and a fractured shuffle with jazzy lead guitar (“Patience”) flow into a simmering recap (“Enter the Center”) — disrupted by a jolting drum break just as the final fade-out seems unstoppable. Throughout, Hurtgen’s dada lyrics steer clear of silliness, communicating emotion via understated delivery (and the occasional Leonard Cohen quote).
The Golden Arch detours into modern classical mode; opener “The Persimmon Tree” builds from solo piano to full orchestra, spiraling upward and forward. Stabbing strings, piano and percussion mutate into the gnarly rock riffing of “Turn the World Off,” a melodic, stinging Luley solo sails over the choral textures of “America,” and a gigantic guitar/synth/string climax caps “For A Pound of Flesh.”
Side three, the electronica-tinged Vibrational, yields further contrast. Synthesizer drones, processed vocals, and motorik riffs boot “The System and Beyond” into gear, downshifting into the cool “Mysteries Not Answers” and the acoustic groove of “Altars of the Gods” (highlighted by Luley trading tasty licks with Hurtgen’s vocals). The spastic “Everywhere At Once” bounces from hymnal piano to werewolf howls to crazed drumming under metallic interjections — then collapses into the stratospheric singing and subdued keyboards of “Insomnia.”
The closer Anunnaki doubles back to rock territory, skittering through classic prog textures (“Lord Wind”), throbbing synths and wailing woodwinds (“Patterns of Light”) to the gorgeous ballad “A Compromise,” capped with another delectable Luley solo. “Hissing the Wave of the Dragon” takes off again, building fizzy variations on the side’s core theme — only to break down to “Everything’s Falling Apart,” a muted callback to the three previous sides with one last growling synth solo from Nason. The final drone fades … then comes back, overwhelms and cuts out in mid-chord!
An “epic musical journey” is, perhaps, a reviewer’s cliche — but that’s exactly what Perfect Beings provide here. Sustained throughout by fine writing, singing and playing, Vier demands to be heard in a single sitting — then compels repeated listens. Highly recommended.
Listen to Vier here:
by Rick Krueger