[sic] Magazine

Once & Future Band – S/T

The Once & Future Band are “making prog cool again” so the press release boldly claims. Was prog ever cool though? There’s no point opening the can of the worms that is defining the essence of cool, but whatever it is prog didn’t seem, by the general understanding of the concept, to be cool at the time. As for these days, small pieces of the original wave could, perhaps, be considered cool in in retrospect: parts of Pink Floyd, arguably all of King Crimson, but the bristling bombast of Emerson, Lake & Palmer? Flute-toting, parody proggers Jethro Tull? Fucking Genesis? Absolutely not. Not then. Not now. Where then do revivalists such as Oakland four-piece the Once & Future Band (who incidentally count members of Drunk Horse amongst their ranks) and their mostly self-produced S/T debut fit in the synthy spectrum?

Well, it’s certainly an album where it’s probably best to leave any preconceptions you may have at the door. First up, yes, it’s indulgent. Of course it is. Preposterously so. And, yes, there are parallels to be drawn with the likes of ELO and with big budget, retro-futurist space-pop in general. Yes, too, the vocals, when not harmonising like The Beach Boys about to enter warp drive, are given a strong dose of cosmic manipulation. Finally, yes, the technical synth-play brings to mind none other than Yes! Yet, this 70s prog-opera does have a few aces up its sleeve. Lush lead single, “How Does It Make You Feel?”, for example, twins Brian May’s guitars with noodly synths, the track’s typically prog six-minute run-time simmering to a surprisingly pretty and focused conclusion. Its follow-up, “I’ll Be Fine”, is full of late Beatles melodies, a big piano ballad that Freddie Mercury would have pleased to call his own. This, sadly, is as good as it gets however.

Second single, “Tell Me Those Are Tears Of Joy”, may throw in a few lite synth-jazz passages but, in dealing with the difficulty of externalising emotions, it ironically fails to come out of its shell and lands somewhat bluntly as a result. Just as subdued, and just as dull it must be said, are “Magnetic Memory” and the meandering closer “Standing In The Wake Of Violence”. At best they’re pleasant. In reality they’re anonymous. The middle section is also no better, a smooth run of preppy, lounge-like indie with a curious landfill Britpop vibe. As for whether the Once & Future Band are making anything cool becomes moot at this point. They’re not making enough of anything good to care.

Best track: “How Does It Make You Feel?”

~Once & Future Band is released February 3rd 2017 via Castle Face.~