It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as both of the previous albums by L.A. based Prog-Rock outfit Perfect Beings were mature in sound and execution with highly original compositions, but third outing, Vier, leaves this listener completely floored – and willing to affirm that a review of the best album of 2018 just might have been written in 2017. Complete Exaggeration? Let’s take a few steps back and tackle this monster from the start.
Founded from the remains of the Moth Vellum project, which ran from 2007 to 2010, Perfect Beings formed around guitarist Johannes Luley and released the self-titled debut album in 2014, to great acclaim. Their singular sound, continuously experiencing much success in the progressive-rock niche, derives from the multitude of unique elements that define the band, such as Ryan Hurtgen’s warm vocal timbre, Luley’s ability to mix various styles into his guitar phraseology and the very unique production values. Furthermore, the debut album was proof of great songwriting and 2016 follow-up, Perfect Beings II, was able to uphold and further elaborate upon it.
Main visionary and songwriter Johannes Luley released two solo albums in the meantime, the second, titled Qitara and released only last year, displaying a great variety of jazz influences in his writing which now also represent a defining new element of the object of this review. Jazz-Fusion notions are more prominent on Vier and with the support of a wider array of instruments enable a vast and exciting new soundscape.
The record comprises four songs, each over the course of roughly 18 minutes presenting different approaches in sound and colour. Guedra opens the album with a more familiar Perfect Beings atmosphere while its successor The Golden Arc displays highly orchestral facets. The third epic, Vibrational, concentrates on electronic pop experiments executed by synthesizer and drum machine patterns, creating atmospheric layers over which Ryan Hurtgen delivers most emotional vocal performances. While the entire album sees thematic development, this becomes especially apparent on closing track Annunaki, which recycles sonic and melodic material from the opener, framing the album in a most harmonious manner.
Complex polyphonic vocal layers open Guedra and give way to virtuoso instrumental work by all involved – saxophone and guitar alternating at taking the lead. Johannes Luley’s already wide spectrum in sound and style on guitar seems to unceasingly evolve, as documented on the above mentioned solo release. In addition to the omnipresent influences of Steve Howe, Luley has further developed a voice of his own, here expressed by sitar-infused lines over atmospheric progressions.
On The Golden Arc Perfect Beings explore uncharted, territory by their standards. The first half of the composition is essentially orchestral and reminiscent of works by early 20th Century classical composers such as Ravel and Stravinsky. Slow piano arpeggios lay out a sound carpet for woodwind to join in, carrying a melody of a pentatonic nature over marching drum rolls – surely alluding to Ravel’s Bolero. Dissonance takes over and briefly drenches the composition in Stravinsky vibrations. After 5 minutes vocals enter, but pace and mood remain calm and introductory until the entire band kicks in at the 8-minute mark, forcefully adding to the – by now – epically proportioned orchestra. The song closes with hymnal progressions guided by a catchy vocal-melody, once again demonstrating the band’s ability to effectively integrate strong pop-hooks into complex musical arrangements.
As mentioned, Vibrational introduces a more synthesizer-heavy approach to Perfect Beings’ music. As the title suggests, pulsating synthesizer patterns unfold wide sonic spheres for Hurtgen to join in a slow and celebratory chant. The first half of the song builds entirely around the synthesizer sequences until acoustic guitar strokes trigger the band’s re-entrance. It subsequently shifts through many dynamic changes, alternating between calm piano guided balladry, fuzzy synthesizer leads, Howesque guitar soloing and even a most unexpected growling climax. The synthesizer walls reappear for a contemplative finale drenched in dreamy soundscapes.
Vier closes with Annunaki, a composition that summarises and expands on previously presented material in a most versatile fashion, simultaneously adding further notions as well. Appropriately fitting to this unconventionally structured concept album, the finale doesn’t come to a typically epic conclusion but ends on a subtle note, presenting the band at its most simple and sober.
Their most ambitious effort to date, Vier sees Perfect Beings breaking boundaries and stepping into uncharted spheres that retain their sound of the past whilst incorporating new and exciting elements. The result is a colourful record recalling past progressive-rock ventures in a modern context, but most of all opening the gate to futuristic endeavours. The best 2018 will have to offer? Impossible to say at this point but the chances are very promising.
01. Guedra (18:23)
– a) A New Pyramid
– b) The Blue Lake of Understanding
– c) Patience
– d) Enter the Center
02. The Golden Arc (16:47)
– a) The Persimmon Tree
– b) Turn the World Off
– c) America
– d) For a Pound of Flesh
03. Vibrational (18:17)
– a) The System and Beyond
– b) Mysteries, Not Answers
– c) Altars of the Gods
– d) Everywhere at Once
– e) Insomnia
04. Anunnaki (18:42)
– a) Lord Wind
– b) Patterns of Light
– c) A Compromise
– d) Hissing the Wave of the Dragon
– e) Everything’s Falling Apart
Total Time – 72:09
Ryan Hurtgen – Vocals, Piano
Johannes Luley – Guitars, Bass
Jesse Nason – Keyboards
Sean Reinert – Drums & percussion
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 19th January 2018