MoeTar – From These Small Seeds (2012)

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There’s a reason that I don’t consider myself a progressive fan, even though I have a healthy number of selections in my music collection. It’s because, overall, the genre really isn’t all that fun to listen to.

The early bands started out fun, and then many of them disappeared, or others evolved into other kinds of entities that really can’t be considered “progressive” (though they did progress, you have to give them that — they just progressed out of the genre all together). So, I’m not all that interested in bands that attempt to emulate what’s already come before, and much of today’s progressive genre is really very regressive, finding inspiration in the past but doing very little inspiring with their own music. Go somewhere new, do something fun and interesting with it if you have to mimic.

Once in a while, luckily, a band comes along and peps up my ears — basically because something is amiss, even though so many of the typical elements of prog-rock are there. Here’s a band where something is amiss. It’s such a good thing to be amiss.

There are times when I want to sit a band down and dole out some advice. Sometimes it’s about the music, sometimes it’s something less tangible, and that’s the case here. Listen, guys and girl. “MoeTar.” It’s just not a good name. I realize it’s the kind of name that stands out because it made me wonder what this could possibly be, but it’s ugly, and it kinda sounds like a vulgar reference for an emotionally stunted (I’m being particularly PC here. Use your imagination). First impressions, you know? I say this because I care, and I care because, after listening to From These Small Seeds, I want people’s first impression be of this music rather than the name. The music is fun and eclectic — the kind of thing one doesn’t often get to say about the progressive genre.

For many progressive listeners, the band alone is good enough, and the singer simply a presence to be endured in order to get to the “good parts”: the band jamming out. In the case of MoeTar, (driven mainly by jazzy bassist Tarik Ragab — the “Tar” in the band name — who holds down the bottom end with drummer David Flores) the good parts is a dose of heavily Gentle Giant-inspired progressive rock, specifically from that particularly strong middle period where the band started flirting with pop elements in the progressive genre (In A Glass House, The Power And The Glory, Free Hand, Interview). Those “good parts” might be enough to draw in a number of prog fans alone: There are only so many bands these days mining that territory and listeners are looking for more. It’s pretty rare, though, that those “good parts” take a back seat to the vocalist, but they do when a band has some exceptional on board.

Moorea Dickason (that’s “Moe”) is the real draw, giving the band someone so capable that they actually appear to be playing catch most of the time, in an unusual flip of the typical roles. She’s possessed of the range of a pop great (think Ann Wilson of Heart in both tone and style, but sometimes a little Kate Bush and Laurie Anderson) and challenges the more stately musical terrain for which great vocalists are typically known. Witness “Random Tandem” for an example of Dickason’s talents: silky smooth vocals that ascend and descend while the keyboards of Matt Lebofsky chase her at seemingly impossible speeds — for a human voice to remain sensible, at least. With “Infinitesimal Sky,” she lets loose a delicious rasp in her voice in the closest thing they have to a straight-up rock song. Well, maybe save for the Chopin-like keyboard break.

Dickason coos sweetly in the one song that could get some radio attention, “Never Home,” an Adele-like ballad that fortunately never dips too deeply into the sap or sentiment to become cloying. It may stick out like a bit of a sore thumb on the album (until the spacey guitar solo from Matthew Heulitt grounds it back in prog-land, that is,) but it sure shows that Dickason’s got an incredible set of pipes.

Now that is a good first impression — though some less adventurous listeners ensnared by that more straight-ahead song may find themselves on quite a weird, wild ride when they hear the rest of the album. People sometimes have to learn to enjoy the “amissness” in music like this, and I’d hate for a simple name to be the thing that puts them off of exploring further.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at
Tom Johnson
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