The Music Therapy Experiment – Semi Automata – Album Review
I tell ya…there are some bands out there that should be competing for the top spots of your playlists when it comes to imaginative, expressive, and all-around excellently innovative musicianship – and you got it, The Music Therapy Experiment would certainly be in the running for their sheer variety in ideas & sound. I was a big fan of the last record I’d heard back in 2019 when they released A Thousand Words, and I definitely like what I’m hearing once again on the duo’s latest record, Semi Automata. Something about these guys that really create an uplifting atmosphere that always seems to hit the mark…and they do it all instrumentally, without so much as breathing a word into a microphone. When you play like John and Mark do, words would be secondary at best even if they were to include’em – these guys let the music do the talking, and rightly so. If I could play like these guys, I certainly would too.
Amidst the flickering & reversed sounds that start out “Surreal,” it’s instantly clear that The Music Therapy Experiment intends to take us on a verifiable journey once again. Loving the drum rolls, and I love the way this song opens up past its first minute to include such texture, color, and character in the atmosphere & aura of “Surreal” as it plays on. Clever additions like the synth strings that show up in the background, or the change in directions they’ll make like you’ll hear just past the two-thirty mark, and of course the powerful lead tones from the guitar, all guide the way to a successfully engaging opening to Semi Automata without giving away the full-scope of what you’ll hear all in one shot. Which in itself, is pretty impressive, considering that “Surreal” is just a tiny bit short of nine-minutes in length. I will say this…it’s a fairly declarative song in the sense that The Music Therapy Experiment pretty much lays it all on the line with their style, immediately flashing the mix of Progressive/Instrumental sound they create. LISTEN to moments around the 5:30 mark though will ya? Extraordinarily beautiful. And although I’m not a giant fan of the Blues in general, John leans a bit in that direction as he solos through this song in the lead and it really worked perfectly on “Surreal” in my opinion. There’s always going to be inherent risk with a long song up at the front of any lineup on any record out there – and so too could be said for music with a Prog-anything description or label attached to it – but for those that instantly connect to what they hear in The Music Therapy Experiment and “Surreal” as the album begins will easily stick with the rest of the songs and be more than happy to do so. They’re not working with typical hooks of any kind here – they’re investing themselves within interesting sound; the results suggest this direction is paying off…you get large doses of true creativity & a structure that remains highly engaging at all times.
“Perception Filter” is something else folks…that much I know to be true. Quite an ambitious tune at the end of the day with wonderful doses of accessible melody and tremendous complexity combined – the guitars alone will drop your jaws in amazement of the spectacularly jazzy riffs and the degree of talent it would take to play’em. With the brightness of the piano-melody at the core surrounding the lead-guitar, you can hear the record spark to life through “Perception Filter” and bring more tangible, accessible melody into the mix. Ultimately, I think there’s no question that for the masses out there, this is where you’ll see a whole lot of ears perk up and start to fully connect to Semi Automata; “Surreal” is an interesting tune, like I said – but lengthy and less conformative as well – when it comes to “Perception Filter,” The Music Therapy Experiment still roams through an expansive amount of sonic terrain & ideas for sure, but it’s built around a sincere melody that people will easily connect to for sure. Whether it’s the friendly & inviting sound it has, or the lively spark of their creativity…the jazzy inclinations or the avant-garde approach they take to their performances…there’s a plethora of reasons to love the organic sound of what The Music Therapy Experience brings to this second cut on their new album. Putting it under a microscope, I have no doubt that we’d all have debates over milliseconds of timing-choices and moves made throughout “Perception Filter,” but the vast majority of this song lines up right where it all makes sense to our brains, and we can still keep up to process the awesomeness.
So…hmm. You know…I mean…like…if you’ve listened to Vai or Zappa & such, you should know enough to expect the oddly overtly-enthusiastic tune to show up every once in a while. As “Euphoric Recall” began with its recognizable theme, I wasn’t honestly sure I was gonna be in for something I was gonna dig if I’m being 100% truthful with ya. The facts are though, once this song shifts gears into their own uniqueness and the freakin’ fantastic virtuoso moments from John Kline on the axe soloing like crazy throughout the entire song…”Euphoric Recall” becomes monumental and all-out award-worthy. It’s hard to complain when one of the first things you’ll hear is a riff on the ever-loved Charlie Brown theme song…or the tune that Snoopy plays…I’d have to revisit The Peanuts to confirm that for ya 100%. It might come out a bit cartoonish as a result of that choice as it begins…but as it plays on, we are talking about scorching hot, neon vibes and all-out radiant sound once things really get moving. In the end, I might prefer more moody melodies personally, or mellower vibes – but I’d be hard pressed to say that The Music Therapy Experiment doesn’t come out with a stellar performance on “Euphoric Recall.” They’ve locked right into a genuinely celebratory sound on this cut that’s bound to brighten a few days out there, and I’m not gonna be the guy to object to that. Relax, listen, enjoy, and soak up the passion.
I’m definitely all about “Damp Squid” – it’s a huge highlight for both players in this band for sure. Don’t get me wrong, Mark’s always up to something rad…John gets a few more opportunities by default of the duties split between’em for the most part when you’re listening to these tunes – but you’ll find “Damp Squid” is one of the cuts on Semi Automata that reveals the balance between them at its best. The drums are understated genius from beginning to end, contributing massively to the artistic design of the structure and doing a heck of a lot more than simply filling in the space with an easy beat. Mark’s spread himself right out over the kit for this song and makes a huge impact from the throne in behind the soaring sounds of John’s guitar making magic up front. I also think we should take a serious time-out for a second and acknowledge the brilliance of the title of this song as well…think about it for a second…”Damp Squid” – that’s actually just straight-up damn funny when you take a moment to consider the logistics of that. Anyhow! The low-end grooves and impressive guitars, highly inventive drums, and thicker vibes in the atmosphere…it all stacks up to a solid WIN on “Damp Squid” – this song has everything I wanna hear & then some. Love the way the keys back-up the main instrumentation and the presence they have…The Music Therapy Experiment has a wonderful grip on the production of their music & their vision for their sound…you’ll find everything is always right where you’d wanna hear it within the mix of their songs and it makes a huge difference on the impact each instrument & layer creates as we listen. As a result, you’ve got immaculate clarity and each tune highlights the combination of entertainment happenin’ within your speakers – just so happens there’s a ton of highlights on “Damp Squid” to be had is all, so you might notice a few more of’em when it comes to this particular tune. Or maybe that’s just me…I mentioned that I really, really, dig on “Damp Squid” right? You sure? Ok then.
I also really love the next tune, but for just about completely different reasons, further proving the varied sound & directions The Music Therapy Experiment takes when creating their music. “Spring Foreword” is wonderful song that shows the truly beautiful side of their sound in full-bloom. I think you gotta give these guys real credit for what they do & how they do it…both records I’ve heard from The Music Therapy Experiment play like songs you can really latch onto with highly memorable moments on display, but also supply your ears with something new to listen to each time you repeat’em. In the context of more mellow, quaint, and exquisite melodies like “Spring Foreword,” what they’ve accomplished is no small achievement, despite its delicate demeanor – there’s absolutely a tangible melody & structure at work that listeners can hang with, but also a fantastic array of instrumentation that’s certain to excite those that truly love the freedom of expression in music. Or in other words, while a song like “Spring Foreword” might seem like it would somehow be less involved with a more universally accessible melody & pace to it – you’ll actually find it’s quite the opposite, and that no matter what speed these two are playing at, they’re putting everything into it. As a result, a deeper listen into a gentle song like “Spring Foreword” will reveal a ton happening at the heart of it all to create what seems so serene in the end. I’d be willing to bet on this track being a pretty universally loved song by all when it comes to listeners out there…you’d basically have to be made of pure stone to resist the amount of charm in the air of the melody and the amount of heart that they put into “Spring Foreword.”
Major credit to Kline’s guitar work on this record. Like I was tellin’ ya at the beginning, the man doesn’t need words to communicate through his music, he lets the axe do the talking and between the tone & technique you’ll hear, you feel like you connect straight to the emotion & sincerity he plays with. “Suite Sorrow” is…I wanna say probably one of my favorites for his guitar playing? I feel like I’d be splitting hairs when it comes right down to it though…the man is continuously engaging and puts a remarkable amount of color & charisma into the frets; no matter which song you choose, he’s an unstoppable force. I also think that, every time they seem to add a more distinct melody on the piano or keys, that they seem to unlock a whole other layer of depth in their material that really works wonders whenever they choose to add it in, and it definitely plays a massive role in the moodiness & atmosphere of “Suite Sorrow.” Continually impressed by the amount of skill on display in “Suite Sorrow” – I think it’s an unmistakable highlight when you’re listening to the technique & steady hand of Kline’s guitar-work – it should honestly have you right on the edge of your seat; despite the slower pace of this song, it’s relentlessly intense in terms of how engaging & gripping the melody and structure of this cut really are. Every time this song hit the five-minute mark, I was fully blown away…there’s so much expression, so much melody, so much sincerity, passion, and skill on display…and all played in a way that makes us feel every second of it, like we’re there with The Music Therapy Experiment to witness the magic happening.
Further to the point, “Covenant Of Friendship” has Kline’s guitar speaking directly to you, note for note. For real, have a listen for yourself, and try to tell me it’s not like you can hear each note played from the guitar having a full-on conversation with ya…extraordinary stuff I tells ya, and a beautiful, inspired melody at the center of this tune that’s sure to connect with listeners out there. “Covenant Of Friendship” is a solid example of a subtle & charming sound that isn’t going to punch you in the face with sound to get your attention, rather, it earns it through a stoic structure & gentle melody you can feel. Probably one of the tracks that’d be harder to argue against Kline being the one to steal the show, but understand the root of WHY he’s able to branch out as far as he does creatively, or the reasons WHY he’s able to stock these songs with such impressive & lengthy solos is because Mark is never gonna let him down in behind him on the throne. Mark’s performance on “Covenant Of Friendship,” at least to me personally, is one of my favorites from him…and it’s not so much for what he’s playing this time around; it’s more about what he isn’t actually. The bottom line of any tune is that you’ve gotta find a way to suit the song and what it calls for – and that’s exactly what Mark’s done on “Covenant Of Friendship,” without question. I think it’s natural to be extremely impressed by what John’s doing on the guitar on “Covenant Of Friendship” – I honestly don’t think you could listen to this song and NOT be impressed by his talent…but Mark truly deserves a ton of credit for finding the right gears to set the pace and always locking it down tight. When you hear what the man is capable of when he gets more space & freedom to roam on a track like “Go To Your Room!” you’ll get the full scope of what I’m saying; Mark’s more than able to be an octopus on the kit if he wants to…if the song CALLS for it. And when it doesn’t, you get the strengths of the balance he provides through more subdued performances like you’ll hear on “Covenant Of Friendship” where he takes less of the spotlight to serve the song overall.
“Go To Your Room!” deserves its own five-page write-up or an essay of its own people, I’m warning ya now. I’ll do my best here to keep this minimal, but understand we’re talking about an outright EPIC tune that’s over eleven & a half minutes long, alright? And I’ll tell ya right now…the only thing I might challenge is the placement in the lineup of songs on this record, but in my personal opinion, they even got that right. Look…it basically boils down to this – if you really get what The Music Therapy Experiment is all about, you’ll have absolutely zero problem at all hangin’ with an adventure as extraordinary & multi-directional as “Go To Your Room!” is…and more or less, you should have a real good idea of what they’re about at this point in the record. So for the people that ‘get it’ – proceed, you’ve got nothing but green lights from me when it comes to the brilliant creativity and innovation that runs rampant throughout “Go To Your Room!.” That being said, the nature of the game here as far as the listening ears of the masses has long been established…and there’s no question that almost any song in double-digit terrain for length is gonna lose a few people or shake’em right off the bandwagon if they were trying to hang on to begin with – that’s just how it goes…that’s the devastating reality of attention spans and how people tend to listen to music is all. In that sense, you almost have to wonder if it might have served the record better to have such a huge tune with a more bold artistic design come at the very end of the album instead, know what I mean? Anyhow…all that aside…if you can’t appreciate the endless well of creativity these two are drawing from, then help yourself to another sandbox of your own to play in, because this one’s occupied. I’m hanging with The Music Therapy Experiment and fully in their corner when they venture off in exciting directions like “Go To Your Room!” – this is the kind of song that your ears instantly recognize the incredible uniqueness of. Nothing typical to be found on “Go To Your Room!,” and even comparatively to the rest of their peers in Progressive or Instrumental music, you’d still come to the consensus that what they’ve pulled off on this track is nothing like 99% of what you know or listen to out there. Bass-lines are kickin’ up a verifiable storm, the guitars are full of wicked tones & texture, the drums & percussion contribute enormously to the creativity and the innovative structure that winds throughout the eleven-plus minute master-class of how to follow through on your wildest ideas – “Go To Your Room!” was a huge highlight, every single time I heard it come back on. In fact, I felt like this could very well be THE highlight of ALL the highlights. And that’s saying something…it’s not like you’ll hear The Music Therapy Experiment slackin’ anytime soon on any of these tunes…but their unbridled creativity takes them into extraordinary places all throughout “Go To Your Room!” – and the value of the uniqueness that they discover is instantly heard & measurable. If you’ve got ears on your face, you should love this expressive & innovative adventure.
Another solid argument for “Go To Your Room!” coming later on in the lineup at the end as opposed to where it currently sits, is that they’ve got their shortest cut “Temporal Incursions” right afterwards. While it contains its own vibrant & bendy ideas & sound that definitely give the song its own distinct flavor & character – it audibly flies by at 2:19 in length after the 11:35 behemoth we just experienced. So as to whether or not a song like “Temporal Incursions” will ever get the full due it deserves…honestly it’s a bit harder to say; in comparison to the mammoth effort you know was put into the eleven-plus minutes of “Go To Your Room!,” the sheer short length of the next cut almost has it feeling like an afterthought. The reality is, The Music Therapy Experiment have put multiple personalities, styles, sounds, and ideas on display all throughout this record…some of them are going to land on our ears more successfully than others will, that’s the nature of the game and our tendency to compare what we hear as we’re listening. I think the amount of exotic sound in “Temporal Incursions” and its flair for playing hard with a more aggressive melody & pace has its own appeal for sure…but I’ll admit, I was probably more on the fence when it came to this song’s inclusion on this record than any other. Still a solid tune…I think placement in the lineup really hit this cut and ends up being a significant factor…each time “Temporal Incursions” came around, as much as I instantly loved the rippin’ bass-lines and bright guitars, I felt like I was willing to trade it all for another two-minutes more of “Go To Your Room!.”
Adding a bit more crunch & grit to the finale of their latest record, “Fact Or X?” takes the last song into the depths of exploratory sound. Gripping stuff on the whole, The Music Therapy Experiment heads in a more alternative direction with their progressive/instrumental approach, and they genuinely light this last cut up with a darker vibe. Killer ideas pouring out of the guitars…and the bass-lines…good LORDY the bass-lines…I haven’t given them nearly enough credit; they don’t always play a starring role, and I wouldn’t necessarily argue that’s the case on “Fact Or X?” either, don’t get me wrong – but if you’re listening closely to this record, you KNOW beyond the shadow of a doubt just how pivotal they’ve been. I like that “Fact Or X?” pumps out a distinctly different vibe & dimension than the rest of the songs on Semi Automata do…and somehow, even with it being so unique from the rest of the set, it still felt like this song belonged to this lineup a bit more than what we previously experienced with “Temporal Incursions.” If they weren’t gonna go with “Go To Your Room!” as the final cut for this record, they definitely made the next best choice or the right call to begin with – the extra toughness and aggressive sound running through the veins of this last song give Semi Automata a seriously conclusive ending. It could also be a hint or an allusion towards what’s to come in the future of their music, style, and sound as well…you never really know what’s coming next from John, Mark and The Music Therapy Experiment – and that’s a very large part of what makes listening to their music so enticing & awesome, every time.
Find out more about The Music Therapy Experiment at their official page at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/musictherapyexperiment
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