Quick and simple album reviews by The Prog Yak. No wordy or puffery reviews, just a simple score from 1 to 5 yaks! Have an album you'd like The Yak to review? Email The Yak.
Spooky Action at a Distance
Let's take a quick look back at Pattern-Seeking Animals' first three albums and see how we rated them here at Prog Radio:
1st Album: #2 Best Prog Albums of 2019
2nd Album: #1 Prog Album of the Year 2020
3rd Album: #4 Best Prog Albums of 2022
I'm not sure any other band can boast a stronger track record with us at Prog Radio over the past four years.
So, how will their 4th album, "Spooky Action at a Distance," rate? Clearly, we have strong expectations for this band here.
An early cause for optimism is that "Spooky Action" is a twin-disc affair—you can never get too much PSA music. The first disc consists of 10 "almost" new tracks for 62 minutes. I say "almost" because the track Bulletproof first appeared on the last Spock’s Beard album, "Noise Floor," from 2018. One can only speculate as to why they chose to remake this particular John Boegehold track. Was John unhappy with how the track turned out on "Noise Floor?” Did he think it simply needed more attention and may have been passed over in 2018? Or, and this would be my guess, was it given this special makeover and included because it's from this song's lyrics that the band's name originates? It did perhaps seem a bit strange that their name came from a Spock’s Beard song, rather than a PSA song, even though composed by John. UPDATE: Looks like all three of my guesses had a place. After publishing my review, I spoke with John and asked him about this. He told me, "I didn't like the way Bulletproof turned out on Noise Floor and that it ended up on the bonus disk. Since it's one of my favorite songs I've written, I couldn't resist doing it again the way I wanted it to sound.” Good for him, and I agree, this new version is the right vibe.
The second disc consists of one new song, and three live tracks from their previous work, for 32 minutes. It’s likely the new song, There Goes My Baby, was relegated to the second disc because it really does stand out on its own as a somewhat bizarre pop-love song. It covers the familiar "breaking up" theme John has so cleverly disguised in prog songs in earlier PSA recordings, such as the brilliant Soon But Not Today, from Prehensile Tales. Here the protagonist seems to lose a romantic partner due to his belief in various conspiracy theories ("aliens from other planets walk among us," "birds are drones," "Elvis lives," "the earth is flat," etc.)—classic Boegehold wit wrapped up in a very hooky pop song. (Prog fans may never admit it, but they will be dancing and head-bopping to this one.)
The live tracks were a very pleasant surprise. Having never seen or heard PSA perform live, it was great to hear how these songs are reworked for a live audience. These are by no means throw-away "bonus" tracks, but rather like new versions of the songs.
John Boegehold is one of the finest songwriters and producers today, and he has one of the best bands and singers to bring it all to life.
The real meat, however, is certainly in disc one with the mostly new material. Ten tracks feature the most interesting instrumentation from the band to date. The usual great Boegehold lyrics are rich in narrative and emotion, inviting the listener to reflect on themes of leadership, sacrifice, disillusionment, the passage of time, the challenges that come with self-awareness, an eerie sense of impending doom, and the human condition. These are compelling themes filled with emotional and spiritual stakes, inviting the listener to consider their own quests, challenges, and transformations. Despite the bleakness invoked at times, there is always a sense of agency and empowerment, celebrating the ability to face life's storms, to embrace them, and to emerge transformed. (Now that I think about it, maybe THAT is why Bulletproof was included. Thematically, the song fits perfectly with the album—an arc of self-discovery and newfound confidence, encapsulating the complex interplay of existential doubt and spirited resilience.)
The 12+ minute, He Once Was, is what John does best. The song is a reflective and empathetic exploration of life's complexities and challenges, capturing the mood of resignation, loss, and a kind of universal suffering, while also hinting at the possibility of community and empathy among the "fallen." All that wrapped up in dynamic and flowing music and interesting instrumentation. These mini-epics are what John does best. I’d love to see him tackle a full concept album in this way. I think it would be PSA’s magnum opus.
Bottom line, "Spooky Action at a Distance" does not disappoint in the least. Deep, introspective, imaginative, meaningful, but still at times playful, beautiful, and extremely melodic. John Boegehold is one of the finest songwriters and producers today, and he has one of the best bands and singers to bring it all to life. This album earns its place up there with Prehensile Tales as PSA's strongest work. I have a feeling, after a few more listens, it may prove to be their very best yet.
The album is slated for release on Oct. 27th, but tune in to Prog Radio now to hear the first single, Window to the World. More of the album will be added as singles are released, and even more tracks in October after the full release. You can pre-order it now, and you should—you’ll want your ears and mind wrapped around this album ASAP.