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.”