I’m not perfect, there, I’ve said it. Hard as it is to admit, I do make mistakes sometimes and, boy, have I made a clanger this time, the mother of all mistakes if you’re a music lover and reviewer in my opinion. In fact, if I’m truthful, I’ve made two mistakes that really go against my mantra as a music lover and author for Lady Obscure Magazine. I have often said “keep an open mind”, you can’t always take things on face value and have to be open to new suggestions and music that wouldn’t normally enter your personal ‘music’ space, not following that was mistake number one. I always tend to listen to albums more than once, in fact many times because I know albums that don’t immediately grab you on first listening can open up and become more accessible upon multiple listens, not following that? mistake number two. Thankfully I now have a second chance to redeem myself, the subject of these mistakes and subsequent, hoped for, redemption? New Jersey based progressive rock band The Twenty Comittee. I heard of The Twenty Committee first about a year ago, for some reason (sheer stupidity maybe) I decided that they didn’t fit in with my musical demographic and I took things no further not even bothering to listen to the album. Later in the year I had the chance to listen to the album again and, despite listening to a couple of the tracks, took the shortsighted decision to give them a miss again (now bordering on lunacy I think). It wasn’t until recently, and after a couple of strong recommendations, that I listened to the whole album and had some sort of epiphany. More of that shortly, for now, here’s a potted history of the band.
The Twenty Committee first assembled in January 2012 to work on material previously written by Geoffrey Langley (vocals, keyboards). By combining the diverse musical insights of Stephen Kostas (guitars), Joe Henderson drums, vocals), and the brothers Justin (guitars, vocals) and Richmond Carlton (bass), the band began collaborating on more original material and playing shows in the greater Philadelphia area, building a catalogue and a reputation.
In April of 2012, the veteran prog artist Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Neal Morse band) launched the “Chance of a Lifetime” series of videos on YouTube, looking for unknown talent to audition for his touring band. Geoff made the trip down to Nashville to meet Neal and had the opportunity to perform some original material for him – material in which Neal expressed particular interest. By the time July arrived, the band had already booked both Radiant Studios and hired Jerry Guidroz (Flying Colors, Transatlantic, Neal Morse) as their producer.
Recorded roughly over the space of two weeks, the band’s debut album, “A Lifeblood Psalm” was released 1 April 2013 to excellent reviews from the prog community.
A Lifeblood Psalm is split into two parts, the first four tracks being unconnected whilst the last five tracks make up The Knowledge Enterprise Suite. Album opener Introduction begins with spoken voices converging on top of each other before a delightful piano leads in the soft vocal and a restrained guitar leads out the track. It was upon hearing How Wonderful that my ears told me I had made a monumental mistake, if a song could be said to make an instant and everlasting impact on me, it is this one. The delightful intro of piano, guitar and drums hits you instantly and emotionally and Langley’s vocal performance is nigh on perfect, the harmonizing is sublime and the chorus just soars high on a wave of good feeling. The upbeat rhythm and jazz like keyboards blend in perfectly and you are seriously smitten, a swirling keyboard and guitar entwine in a brilliant and intricate combination that works perfectly before the sublime chorus soars high once more, just a fantastic song. The complex and intriguing Her Voice starts with a jazz like feel, almost experimental and very progressive. The chord changes and time signatures come thick and fast throughout this excellent song, you get the feeling that the band allowed themselves plenty of free rein with this track especially amid the complex instrumental interlude that pulsates with impressive and intricate musicianship to an almost Zappa like intensity. Throughout all this virtuosity Langley’s voice shines like a beacon. The keyboard and guitar solos than run through the second half of the song are equally as impressive. After the complex brilliance of the previous track Airtight is pared back simplicity, luscious keyboards and a thoughtful acoustic guitar matching the ethereal quality of the vocal perfectly. It is a perfect way of showing off their songwriting capabilities, even when the tempo increases it never loses its simple grandeur.
A five part progressive rock suite must start with an overture, surely? Well, not to disappoint the first part of The Knowledge Enterprise is appropriately titled Overture and is playful, lilting instrumental that runs at a fairly high tempo and has enough direction changes to keep things interesting, another chance for the band to enjoy themselves and prove their technical prowess. Part two, Conceivers and Deceivers is a move back to the sound previously established, a jazz feel to proceedings and another excellent vocal from Langley, harmonizing brilliantly with the backing vocals, driven along by some talented piano work. There are some inventive time changes and short, instrumental interludes that move it from the jazz sphere to a more progressive feel. There is no break as we move straight into the third part, Tonight. There is gentle grace to this part of the suite, driven as it is by an elegant piano and an exquisite string section. The poignant and touching vocal is majestic and the way the guitar comes in and lifts the track sends shivers down your spine as it soars to the heavens. This sublime, beautiful piece of music concludes with a captivating piano lead out to the end. Part 4, With These Eyes, takes the established styles we have already heard and mixes them up a bit to produce a song that is bursting with inventiveness and yet still has that musical edge that The Twenty Committee give to everything, the catchy chorus being another inspired piece of songwriting. Well, part 5 is called Finale and is a fitting end to the album, these impressive musicians backing up that sensational voice as it comes to a close, leaving me wanting more.
The biggest compliment I can give to The Twenty Committee is, when I think that I almost passed this album by completely, it sends me into a cold sweat. It is one of the most impressive debut albums I have ever heard and I can see why it found a place on many of the ‘best of’ lists of 2013. It is in turns inspiring, moving and uplifting and will stay with you for a long time to come. It left me wanting more and that happens on fewer and fewer occasions nowadays.