The Music Therapy Experiment – Art And Science – Album Review
By the time this review comes out, it’ll be nearly a full two years since our introduction to the duo of Dr. John Kline & Mark Christianson of The Music Therapy Experiment through the release of their album A Thousand Words in the middle of May 2019. Like clockwork, they returned last year pretty close to the same time with their Semi-Automata record in June – and just a lil’ less than another 365 days later, they’re right on schedule with the upcoming release of their new album Art And Science. No word on the official date as of yet according to what I can find out there online on the ol’ Google machine, but that being said, if you’re following along with them & the pages of The Music Therapy Experiment, you’ll see you’ve already got access to these tunes if you know where to look. *cough *reverbnation *cough
You never really know where these exploratory records by The Music Therapy Experiment will take ya, but I can guarantee that if you’ve got ears on your head, and they’re functional, you should have no problems whatsoever in finding a way into their sonic adventures. “Indomitable” for example, is a perfect example of an extremely inviting dose of instrumental musicianship that is as inviting as it is entertaining…a stellar gateway into what these dudes create & do so very well. From the inherent sweetness you’ll find from the very beginning, to the guitar work that continually becomes ever more enticing & exciting to listen to – I mean…this is the kind of stuff a dude like me gets outta bed for, you dig? Listen to spots like you’ll find around the three-minute mark, or the final minute of this track, and I promise ya you’ll discover jaw-dropping skills on display that should truly blow your mind. Long before that even, you’ll hear spectacular tone & technique at work, blending tremendous instrumentation into melodies that are delicate & boldly vivid as The Music Therapy Experiment warms up their amplifiers and our speakers in the process. Lordy that good doctor can play eh? Mark’s right there in lockstep with him at all times – “Indomitable” gets them off to an extremely welcoming start on solid ground.
One of the things I’ve always loved about these guys is that they’ve never shied away from their love of Progressive sound & style; I might be a simple melody dude myself personally, but in terms of being able to create music that truly takes ya somewhere in your mind, The Music Therapy Experiment has been more than willing & able to supply. They embrace experimentation & the avant garde every bit as much as they imply through their moniker, will often unapologetically get a lil’ weird with it all at times throughout listening to their music, and continually challenge themselves to plunge deep into the unknown in search for new combinations of style & sound – you gotta love bands like these built of just two extraordinary musicians dedicated to such remarkable efforts & auditory expeditions. “Stealing Dan” – can you spot the influence from the title? Sure you can, you’re savvy folks. For the rest of you out there that haven’t got your full rack filled with music’s history, that’d be a sly reference to good ol’ Steely Dan of course…and those familiar with the band certainly know their reputation for excellence and impeccable musicianship. In a true case of takes one to know one, The Music Therapy Experiment put on a unified front as they play with tempo & time & flex their skills from Jazz to Rock & back again, creating an array of textures & tones that swirl fantastically throughout the atmosphere of “Stealing Dan” and bring out the rhythm & groove they possess at the core of their music as well. There’s always a risk to putting an eight-plus minute tune this far up in a lineup of songs to a degree when we’re talkin’ about the average everyday listener out there…but like I said from the get-go, Mark & John make no bones about who they are, the kind of music they wanna make, or worrying about who will or won’t ‘get it’ – they’re in this for the artistic challenge & genuine love of the craft, to create music they’d be proud to listen to themselves, and if we happen to enjoy it in the process, which we do, then heckin’ right on. Having a song like “Stealing Dan” this far up in the set-list is every bit of a declarative statement as it is a great tune with about ten songs-worth of ideas in one experience – you’re listening to a Progressively-minded duo at work here, and in this nod to one of their musical heroes, they make sure you feel that. Mysterious, curious, melodic, jazzy…”Stealing Dan” is very much the smorgasbord of sound you’d expect to find if you picked up on the reference and you’re familiar with the wild instrumentation of Steely Dan.
The question becomes, are The Music Therapy Experiment more effective in a short burst, like you’ll find in the fired-up sounds of “Akhal Teke” – and I wouldn’t blame ya whatsoever if you felt like the answer was an instantaneous & emphatic YES. Don’t get me wrong – I think there’s plenty to love about a song like “Stealing Dan,” and I’d always go to bat for the musicianship you’ll find these two put into ANY of their tunes…but in terms of immediate appeal, accessibility, and universal vibes…man is it ever hard to argue against “Akhal Teke” not having it ALL goin’ on, you feel me? This is actually the shortest cut on Art And Science by about a half-minute, and probably under the length of the average tune on this album by about ninety seconds overall…and the amount of sheer entertainment they generate here on this one cut alone, would easily fill most artist’s & band’s entire records. They’ve latched onto a deadly rhythm & groove here that completely works – “Akhal Teke” delivers wild intensity and explosively colorful character in their sound…you couldn’t possibly listen to a track like this one and not start to feel the movement of their music invade ya & get you movin’ yourself…this is a massively addictive cut, and in terms of the energy & appeal of their sound early on in the lineup, I’d imagine this song will have no problem being a highlight for many listeners out there, and spark their interest to continue forward to see what else this innovative duo might be cookin’ up for us throughout the lineup of Art And Science. The rumble & shake of this whole cut makes an impact…”Akhal Teke” is a seriously badass cut that’s a killer example of their innate ability to create single-worthy songs within the instrumental realm, 100%.
While they’re both multi-instrumentalists & feature their individual skills in many ways together through the music they make, I’d readily concede that I don’t usually have all that much of a clue as to who does what beyond John rockin’ the guitar & Mark on the drums at The Music Therapy Experiment’s nuts & bolts. That being said, there’s a post on “Alien Ocean” I found at their Facebook page that revealed a bit more insight into this tune that you can see visually, beyond what you can hear in its Satriani-influenced vibes with your face-holes. Trust the good doctor to deliver the right prescription: “I am gratified by this album and all of its tracks, but this one is certainly among my favorites.” That’s refreshingly honest – I not only completely agree with John in what he’s said here, but I’d highly suspect you will as well. It’s always a tough thing to choose between the songs we create ourselves and put our hearts & souls into – especially if you’re making sure you give each cut everything you’ve got like The Music Therapy Experiment does…but at the end of the day, we’re all still human (at least somewhat…musically-speaking, they’re both superhuman but we can get into that another time…) and we still have our own favorites & songs that appeal to us no matter what we do. SOME of us however…tend to play coy about it all and give ya the ‘every song is great’ speech without any real thought to the answer of ‘what’s your favorite song on the new album’ that every interviewer out there on earth usually asks at some point. I very much like that The Music Therapy Experiment was willing to come out there declaratively with a statement of support for a song that truly deserves the extra accolades – “Alien Ocean” IS a remarkable tune, in EVERY way. You’ve got Mark on the drums as reliable as ever, and also making an appearance on the ‘clean spacious guitar’ ya hear too – John takes on the lead guitar, bass & piano…and combined together, they put on an absolutely mesmerizing & hypnotic performance that is right on target. When you slip into the depths of “Alien Ocean” yourself, you’ll know – it’s one of those songs that immediately reveals its specialness…I mean, you know, thirty-seconds in or so once everything kicks into gear & all, but you get what I’m saying…once this song is locked into place after the intro takes us into the deep, we’re all swimming in sound surrounding us with the gentle comfort of water, and flowing just as fluidly.
You shift into the triumphant vibes of “Interstellar Jellyfish,” which is a wonderful natural extension that seems to fit perfectly in tandem with the last song we heard, now racing us through the ocean out into the cosmos via this fantastical musical creature they’ve created. Love the rumble in the steady bass-lines that bounce into this tune…love the spiraling of guitars that shimmer & shine throughout this song as well…I’d readily concede that “Interstellar Jellyfish” is up against a hard battle in making the impression that either “Akhal Teke” or “Alien Ocean” made right beforehand, but as there always is with the tunes of The Music Therapy Experiment, there’s still more than enough to keep ya fully entertained here. Up to & including a riotously awesome fake-ending that actually got ME for once…I thought they were all finished up there for a moment with all the crickets before the clapping of the audience goin’ on, but apparently that’s just an intermission! Don’t go grabbing your popcorn or a bathroom break, it doesn’t last quite that long…but it’s another great twist to have put into “Interstellar Jellyfish” and into the record overall. Obviously it’s not a move you can pull each & every track we create…and in music’s history, you’ll find it’s a switch several bands have been willing to pull at the right time…it’s one of those inexplicable, joyful oddities that tends to pop up in music every so often, and for some strange reason, correct me if I’m wrong – it’s always a welcome one. I love the huge hits & strong beats Mark has kicked & thumped into this song along the way…real power, real precision, real innovation, and real chops on display from this guy throughout this whole song that can’t be missed in a serious highlight of what he’s capable of…for a duo, not only do they have the incredible balance of an entire band, but they also really know when to lean on each other’s main strengths to let their music organically create big wins. Just like any great team, you recognize who should be leading the way towards the end goal, and you do your best to provide the assist when you can as best you can – you’ll probably find you feel like I do about “Interstellar Jellyfish” – Mark actually leads the way through this track from the drums, and in the process provides John all the reliability he needs to roam with his guitar & discover the unique melody & layers of instrumentation that combine to form this tune around him. They make a great pair, no doubt.
Bringing in the eastern-tinged flavor to their sound for “Istanbul Hovercraft,” you’ll find this cut stuffed pretty damn full from the lefts to the rights. Not sure what in the all heck has gotten into Mark back there on the throne, but he’s lighting this mother up with a whole onslaught of fills & beats as John continues to do his thang and find his way through this new musical landscape & location they’ve scouted out. I wouldn’t go nearly as far as to say this one gets away from them…on a technical level, I’m sure you’ll find things right in-line with whether they should be as they play it…but in terms of direction, it’s a lot more wandering in comparison to many of the rest, seemingly in search of a destination out there, which could just as likely be Istanbul as any other place on the map with this smorgasbord of sound. Mix-wise…not my favorite of the bunch, but still nothing so detrimental that it would ever stop ya from listening…the simple facts of the matter are there’s just really a heck of a lot goin’ on here & some bulky low-end tones that keep the thickness at somewhat of a maximum intensity in that regard. So while there are still things that certainly stand out from the guitars to the thunderous drum beats to be heard along the way, there still feels like there’s more that would likely to be missed in the mix here.
“Willimina Thunderbroom’s Magnificent Philistine Zinnias.” Sweet. This part of the review practically writes itself with a title like that; I can put my feet up & relax a little bit while I listen to this ten-minute tune. Two things can be true, and are here when it comes to this tune – the first being, it’s a whole heck of a lot of F-U-N…and the second being, it’s still gonna appeal largely to the instrumental & progressive crowd, in the process of scaring everyone else & sending them running back to their top-40 tunes right quick. Essentially, that’s the risk you’re always gonna run with the everyday music listener, and you can’t really go about catering to that with the skillset this duo contains and the desire they have to venture out into the unexplored realms of sound to see what’s out there. For the musicians out there, you’ve got no problem whatsoever hanging with a cut like this, and you’ll marvel at how it evolves, grows, swells, breaks down & builds back up as it transitions & morphs along the way as The Music Therapy Experiment starts bending time & space through their movements & pace as it plays. For the rest of ya…buckle up, because you’re probably not used to ideas so expansive and ambitions so vividly realized…The Music Therapy Experiment isn’t hanging around for y’all to catch up, they’ve got music to make! “Willimina Thunderbroom’s Magnificent Philistine Zinnias” will incorporate bass-lines you’d even feel like could be found in a Primus tune, along with many other zany moments along the way that’ll send the frequencies of their sound all over the dial as they keep you entertained via sonic variety at work on just about every level you can think of. It’s an ambitious tune…and it’s equally demanding to listen to when it comes right down to it, I ain’t gonna lie to ya…but if you’re on the same wavelengths as these two dudes are, you’re bound to find you’ve got a whole lot to love soaring through this very song.
With “Casting Nasturtiums” (say what now John?), they dive deeper into a low-end groove & lean on the Blues to drive their way through the heart of this tune. Alright…I’ll bite…what in the all-heck is a “Nasturtium” and how on earth do you cast one? A moment if you all don’t mind… Oh! Alright – we’re talkin’ flowers here…described as “cheerful and easy-to-grow” according to the online world – and man are these things colorful or what? Definitely explains the array of explosively radiant sound that sprouts up within this tune…you get a great dose of character, charisma, charm, and color in this cut right here. All-in-all, a track like “Casting Nasturtiums” isn’t just a good tune, it’s a remarkably innovative & insightful one that helps push the genre of the Blues forward whether it likes it or not. Drag it kicking & screaming I say! There’s almost never a moment where you hear a song with Blues-esque tendencies & tones to it that you don’t end up feeling like it becomes the dominant trait…”Casting Nasturtiums” is how you do the Blues without actually doing the Blues, you dig what I’m sayin’ cool cats? Sure there will be sections & moments where that influence on the sound comes through in undeniable ways, but there’s still more than enough of an instrumental hybrid at work that it still might slip by a few of you out there, especially after it begins to shift its direction, tone, and sound into brighter terrain as it heads towards the third minute. The addition of the piano really works out well here too for The Music Therapy Experiment…you can hear how that layer of reliability in the melody once again provides even more freedom for John to roam, and in the finest of forms, he delivers. They both do when it comes right down to it – I felt like the way they transitioned their sound throughout “Casting Nasturtiums” was remarkably well done and executed with the heart, passion, and precision the writing truly deserved. Nasturtiums! Huh! I learned something. Seeds as low as $2.09 here in Canada…seems like a good deal…
If Dr. Kline’s guitar-work on “Boom Badda De Nadda” doesn’t somehow impress ya, you’re dead inside, straight-up. I cannot help you, nor would I assume anyone else be able to…you clearly have no pulse, and you belong underground where there is no sound at all. Now…if you were to ask me, say, on any given day of the week, without listening…if I thought I was gonna enjoy a tune called “Boom Badda De Nadda” at some point, now, or maybe even perhaps ever…I’d probably have told ya no. Yet here we are, and the verdict is in – The Music Therapy Experiment jams this out in full-force with major fun in the mix for ya, with loads of personality on display as wild as it’s ever been. Mind you, for a three & a half minute long tune on the shorter-side of their catalog & musical creations, you’ll still find that it’s got a tremendous range of expressive sound that takes time for a slower moment or two along the way, even when the main meat of what you’ll likely remember is how joyously awesome the rest of the rambunctious energy they generate is surrounding those spots. It’s got funk at its core, it’s got sly moves and serious groove to it…they play this track triumphantly and with truly exuberant musicianship – you can hear the spirit really take hold of John & Mark when they latch onto something they themselves truly love from start to finish, and tracks like “Boom Badda De Nadda” are a perfect example of how the joy they find in music translates directly to what they choose to play, how they choose to play it, and how the whole celebratory vibe they create makes you just wanna stand up & cheer for’em.
As with all things in life, sometimes you just know when something will speak to ya on another level than other things can, which is what it was like for me to experience “Long Goodbyes.” For me, this was the kind of song that I knew within mere seconds I’d enjoy…mellow guitar vibes like this and the warmth in the aura & atmosphere of Kline’s guitar here is both exquisitely beautiful and just as compelling. Songs like this tell an emotional tale that connects to hearts & minds through the power of melody, subtle, gentle, and delicate as it may be…there’s such a stunningly endearing thread that ties this track flawlessly together with welcoming & comforting sound. As unforced as a moment in time can possibly feel through music, “Long Goodbyes” is built entirely of guitar and I believe just a slight hint of synth atmosphere supplied in the background, but it could just be the glow of the guitar tones floating in the mix…either way, the entire song sounds wonderfully organic and incredibly real. This is that intimate & isolated moment I seek out on pretty much every album I listen to in the instrumental realm or guitar-driven tunes from Vai to Satch & beyond…the endearing sincerity these maestros of the axe are capable of creating – John included – fully prove that there are things about music that can speak stronger than any words ever could. This particular cut actually reminds me a lot of a record I still love to this day by an artist that simply went by the name of One & released a gorgeous album filled with emotional tunes much like this one here, it was called Four September Suns. A bit hard to find out there by comparison to some, but well worth the efforts of tracking it down…especially if you like what you hear from The Music Therapy Experiment here on “Long Goodbyes.” Not a solitary second of this I’d remotely even think to change…there is pure magic coming through the speakers when this song comes on, and even though it’s a lil’ more bare-bones by comparison to the rest in its simplified ingredients, this gem of a song has no problem whatsoever reaching the max potential of the memorable impact it’ll make on you.
“Tibetian Sky, 3rd Movement” will finish the record on highly pleasant vibes conclusively, though it does invite the question as to where the heck those first two movements have gone to. If you see Mark or John on the street, make sure to shake them up & down & check their pockets, because you never know, it might not just be a clever title – they might very well be holding out on more music! Attack, my minions! Set forth and conquer their studio! Scan their hard-drives for everything they might still be hiding away in the vault! Alright…now scratch all that…I’ve rethought my position on this & don’t wanna encourage too much savagery…because I ain’t gonna lie to ya, some of you folks out there are all too quick to start your riotin’ these days, and I don’t wanna get myself sued, or my tombstone to read: “that hairy dude that got pounded into pennilessness by the nice chaps in The Music Therapy Experiement.” Maybe they ARE hiding a 1st movement…maybe even a 2nd…all I can tell ya for sure is that you should be more than satisfied with the 3rd one they give ya, because it’s a fantastic track to have finished this album on and certainly feels like its own complete idea without the support of any further movements. As dazzling as it is charming, as welcoming as it is inviting, “Tibetian Sky, 3rd Movement” is a stellar summation to what they’ve created throughout this record, and a supremely friendly vibe to leave us on – one that says so long for now, but gives us that warm & fuzzy feeling that they’ll be back in no time at all so that we can enjoy this all over again. Which, incidentally, is only a click away from ya once you get your hands on a copy of Art And Science by The Music Therapy Experiment…you can repeat this as often as you like, and with their spirited & sensory sound, I’d suspect you’ll be quite inclined to do just that.
Find out more about The Music Therapy Experiment & their upcoming album Art And Science from their official website at: https://musictherapyexperiment.com
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