Delving further into the psych-prog course they launched with 2010’s impressive The Orange Tree EP, Boston-based trio Blue Aside keep a strong sense of melody running throughout their debut full-length, The Moles of a Dying Race. Notably absent are the abrasive vocals that periodically showed up throughout that initial release (review here); in their place, guitarist Adam Abrams, bassist Joe Twomey and drummer Matt Netto have expanded their melodic reach, instrumentally and vocally ranging further into classic and modern progressive elements. The eight track offering, released via Hydro-Phonic Records, runs a lengthy 62 minutes, which is a hefty first statement, and the three-part “The Moles of a Dying Race” title-cut is threaded between other pieces, opening with a seven-minute installment before “The Electrode Man” and “Will We Remain Tomorrow” – both of which top eight minutes – begin the process of really immersing the listener in the album’s atmosphere, which is patient and soothing despite still being tonally weighted. If Netto’s snare is anything to go by, the album was most likely recorded by Black Pyramid drummer Clay Neely at Black Coffee Sound, and there’s a decent balance in the production between lolling groove and open space. Abrams’ guitar is a focal point, but the trio’s vocals also feature heavily in the layers of the mix. The opening “The Moles of a Dying Race: Part 1” distinguishes itself via a sleepy delivery and psychedelic sprawl, and immediately the band makes it known that they’ve gone deeper into their own sound than they did or could have on their first EP, and as “The Electrode Man” follows with Abrams’ lead tracks layered in a kind of instrumental chorus after a gruffer declaration that, “We’re done” – the implication being more perhaps about our species than any more particular “we” – the mood is somewhat darker, but the tones and atmospheres remain consistent. Blue Aside are simply doing more as songwriters than crafting parts that flow well together. They’re using those pieces to evoke an idea, a reality, and it’s for that reason that The Moles of a Dying Race seems so well suited to being tagged as prog.
There isn’t any real focus on technicality in the sense of coldly putting on a clinic. While the three members of the band prove more than capable players – Abrams in particular gives some choice leads and seems to have expanded his creative breadth, perhaps from his work with the experimental Space Mushroom Fuzz psychedelic side-project – their mission remains not the highlight of individual contributions, but instead the song as a whole. The sum, not the parts. “The Electrode Man” bleeds directly into “Will We Remain Tomorrow” (I have a version of the record on which the two songs are combined to one 17-minute track, and I’m not sure which is the final, so if it’s the whole “The Electrode Man/Will We Remain Tomorrow, I hope someone will correct me; it’s the same listening experience either way, so I didn’t figure it really mattered so much), which but for the sharpness of Netto’s drumming would be utterly hypnotic in its earlier moments, Abrams’ leads spacing out over a warm foundation laid down by Twomey on bass. Shades of Rush persist as the more actively chugging verse begins, and the rest of the song is devoted to smooth tradeoffs between the two figures, ending in a solo and a slowdown that sets up the pastoral intro to “The Moles of a Dying Race: Part 2,” on which Abrams and Twomey pair wah lines while Netto cymbal washes behind. Gradual – ever gradual – the song unfolds, gracefully turning darker over its 10:32 runtime, whispered vocals cutting through a verse before opening to a chorus that sets up a more metallic progression, Netto adding brief flourishes of double-kick drumming to play up the aggressive feel. The solo two-thirds of the way through the song is about as grandiose as Blue Aside get on their first LP, reveling in indulgence before shifting back into the chorus. They seem to stumble through the repetitions of that last chorus, with Netto’s fills faster and more impatient than the lumbering riff calls for, but that’s how they end the song, leading to a moment of straightforward respite with the shorter, “The Ice Mammoth.”
Blue Aside never really go full-on riff rock with The Moles of a Dying Race, but “The Ice Mammoth” (5:47) is about as close as they come, its lack of expanse feeling no less pointed than the ranging preceding and serving to ground the record’s middle right where it most needs it. The riff is hook unto itself, and they use it well in the chorus, relying on a basic chug to propel the verse forward. It’s not until the second half of the song, in the solo section, that they really give some hint of the space in the songs before “The Ice Mammoth,” and while it works in the context of the album as a whole – and Twomey’s basslines are some of the best on the record – the added layers of guitar feel extraneous amid the track’s simpler musical positioning. It’s a small gripe, but it matters. As the band moves back into psychedelic prog with the Floydian idolatry of “We Move to Sleep” – the longest single cut here at 10:50 – the momentum they built with “The Ice Mammoth,” the movement they created there, is largely cut. An early section of undulating fuzz and layered leads, repeated verse lines and skillful drumming gives way to acoustic/synth tonality that reminds of Hypnos 69 (never a complaint), and while it’s lush and gorgeous and melodically brave, there’s a part of me listening that still wants it to rock, and that’s just not what Blue Aside have in mind for this part of the album. The midsection of “We Move to Sleep” dreams its way toward the eight-minute mark, picking up at 7:50 with heavier guitars and big-sounding drums to create a wall of sound that squealing blues notes intricately cut through before the chorus resumes instrumentally and leads to the outro. Theoretically, they could have ended the album there. That finish is big enough, and the way “We Move to Sleep” ends has a feeling of finality, such that as the shorter “The Moles of Dying Race: Part 3” opens quietly with Twomey’s bass, it sounds almost like the start of another album. Loud/quiet interplay marks the opening movements of the final part of the title-track, and there’s a linear build undertaken throughout, but subtly, so that by the time the song ends, you hardly realize how far you’ve traveled from one end to the other.
I guess the same could be said for the album as a whole, but before they’re done, six-minute instrumental closer “Interstellar Overdriven” rounds out with swirl drums and a more active approach, faster than “The Ice Mammoth,” but not as directly stoner-influenced, better suited stylistically to what Blue Aside are doing throughout the rest of The Moles of a Dying Race, just waking up from the album-long doze that’s been purposefully constructed. They finish off with a barrage of killer guitar work from Abrams and some driving metallic rhythms from Netto and Twomey, and though it’s an effective closing statement, it arrives late in confirming that what “The Ice Mammoth” posited – namely that as much time as they spend progging and spacing out, there’s more to Blue Aside than any one subgenre can really encompass. And they prove it with these songs – the only trouble is that by the time “Interstellar Overdriven” takes hold, The Moles of a Dying Race has already been on for nearly an hour, and so while they can be lush, or brash, or melodic, or aggressive, or prog, or stoner, or psych, or all these things, what’s called for now is an efficient execution of their ideas. If they were spending their time improve jamming and relying solely on the chemistry between Abrams, Twomey and Netto to carry across musical ideas – i.e., if that’s all they had going for them – that would be one thing, but these songs have a wide breadth of influences to work from, it’s just too easy to get lost along the way before the final stamp is put on. I don’t know if fewer tracks is an answer or if it’s a matter of developing an editorial ear in the songwriting, maybe both, maybe neither, but as impressive as Blue Aside continue to be after The Orange Tree, the missing piece seems to be that crispness of execution that would really make their songs as memorable as otherworldly ideas from whence they come. On any level, however, The Moles of a Dying Race has a lot to offer. Just don’t expect it to land immediately and smack you upside the head.Blue Aside, Blue Aside The Moles of a Dying Race, Boston, Hydro-Phonic Records, Massachusetts, The Moles of a Dying Race