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Once & Future Band

Castle Face, 2020

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Once & Future Band's 2017 debut was a surprise prog-rock album from the year, an update of ‘70s prog-pop and ‘60s psychedelic pop that was a hit with critics, myself included. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Oakland trio has gone back to the same well for their sophomore disc, to less memorable results.

The songs are a little less indebted to Queen and ELO this time; while there’s still a strong mid-period Chicago sound (seriously, listen to “Song Of The Evergreens,” because these guys surely did) and some new smooth jazz influences, there’s also a sense of the band coming into their own, sounding less like their influences. Unfortunately, this doesn’t result in a strong set of songs, functioning instead as a win for sound and atmosphere.

Five of the nine tracks are instrumental, including the interminable nine-minute closer “The End And The Beginning,” and while they have some decent moments, they tend to meander around like jam sessions and then end without making an impact (“Automatic Air,” “Several Bullets In My Head,” “Mr. G,” which could all be the same song). The music is relatively upbeat and cheerful, sometimes venturing into old-timey pop smarts (“Andromeda”) and sometimes into wonky detours like the slightly-unhinged two-minute “Freaks” and the odd “Airplane,” which is fascinating in a deep-cut-Gentle-Giant sort of way but too weird and twee to recommend.

The title track and “Problem Addict” are the best tracks, or at least the ones that make the most impact. And points for trying on the nine-minute “The End And The Beginning,” which throws a lot of instrumental ideas at the wall but fails to tie them together into something coherent or memorable. Had some of the random jams been jettisoned in favor of the best parts (and the spooky piano intro), it would have worked a lot better.

So where this ends up is a tentative, scattershot album with some cool sounds and a band still trying to find the songs to fit their unique voice. If you liked the debut then this will do fine, but unless you’re a modern prog-pop aficionado or the Nuggets box sets are your favorite albums of all time, there’s not much to see here.

Rating: C-

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