It’s extremely hard to stand out in the field of progressive rock these days, when the genre had the raced out the gate with King Crimson’s In The Court of the Crimson King in 1969 and had realized nearly all its potential by 1975 or so. Even the cream of the modern-day prog-rock bands such as Porcupine Tree are so evocative of the classic ones, and the appeal is based a lot on nostalgia.
San Francisco Bay area-based MoeTar introduced themselves just a couple of years ago with their debut platter From These Small Seeds and for their part, they conjure up memories of early-period Genesis, mid-period Gentle Giant and classic-period Kansas, all with a dash of Frank Zappa. Actually, that’s not a bad mix of influences at all.
But their secret weapon, their killer app, their high card in a game of pitch, lies in the one part of the band that’s often the afterthought in a prog band: the vocalist. Moorea Dickason — who is often compared to all the great rock and pop female vocalists from Ann Wilson to Adele — is the total package who sings with immense power, grace and dexterity.
It’s that last attribute that serves the band the best; the circuitous strains devised by bassist and primary composer Tarik Ragab are built to be led by voice because the words are often married to the melody note-by-note. And those songs are so tantalizingly close to being accessible. However, just when your ears begin to tell you that it’s a surefire radio hit, David Flores’ drums beat shifts from 4/4 to 7/8 (or some other loopy time signature), keyboardists Matt Lebofsky or Jonathan Herrera and guitarist Matthew Heulitt will take off on some twisty unison line or Dickason herself will launch into some impossible vocal acrobatics, often with the rest of the band barely able to keep up with her.
Even though Lucy pulls back on the football on your pop sensibilities, the band has already drawn you in; you might as well stick around and solve the puzzle.
The band is back with a second helping and ahead of the August 19, 2014 release of Entropy Of The Century (Magna Carta Records) comes an advance single “Regression To The Mean.” It would have been so easy to pick out a more commercial track such as the dreamy power ballad “Benefits” and fool people into thinking that MoeTar is a made-for-Top 40 band. No disrespect meant to “Benefits,” it’s fine tune, but “Mean” is way more representative of the band.
Like the aftershocks of a major earthquakes, the melody of “Regression To The Mean” is rife with jarring little rhythmic shifts and small melodic fragments stitched together but somehow land on its feet in the end. That’s because of the musicians’ sharp execution, but Dickason is the one who makes it all sound natural. Her voice ascends and descends, abruptly changing direction, but it never feels like she’s breaking a sweat doing that. Is there a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure to this song? I’m not sure, but I’m not sure it matters, either. Whatever, there’s a lot packed into those four minutes, which is breaking from the prog-pack in another regard: it doesn’t have to be a quarter hour long in order to say a lot musically.
“Regression To The Mean” isn’t a simple tune and it’s not necessarily opaque, either. It, like most MoeTar songs, issues a challenge to the listener: does the song have to be instantly catchy but also repetitive and elementary in order to be put in the “like” column? If the answer is ‘no,’ then welcome to the world of MoeTar. There’s plenty more of this deeper and lasting quality where that came from.