Thank You Scientist – Maps of Non-Existent Places (2012; 2014 reissue)

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Maybe it was too full of good, heady stuff for people to absorb right away, but it’s hard to think of a recent rock album more deserving of a reboot than Thank You Scientist’s Maps of Non-Existent Places. Originally self-released in 2012, this debut long player attracted the attention of Coheed & Cambria lead man Claudio Sanchez who is launching a record label, Evil Ink Records, and will make a Maps reissue Evil Ink’s inaugural release when the digital version goes on sale September 16, 2014 with the CD version to follow two weeks later.

So what could have possibly attracted Sanchez to this band? The reasons could be plenty. A product of students at the music program at Montclair State University, everyone in this seven-piece ensemble are accomplished musicians, and the core of Tom Monda (guitar), Ellis Jasenovic (saxophone) and Andrew Digrius (trumpet) forged this unit out of a shared love of Frank Zappa, The Beatles, Harry Nilsson and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. They form music that’s melodically rich as it is complex, and they mind the vocal end of things, too: Salvatore Marrano’s high tenor is powerful and elastic to navigate with the tangled chord progressions and rhythmic patterns, and passionate enough to make this tangled art a human face.

Greg Colacino on bass, Odin Alvarez on drums and Ben Karas on violin round out the group, and sooner or later you discover these guys aren’t slouches, either. You can’t be and play this music.

Fierce, energetic and vivid, this might nevertheless soon tire out listeners from being little more than a vulgar display of virtuosity, except that Thank You Scientist take their Beatles influences seriously. Take, for instance, “My Famed Disappearing Act,” that starts as a metal guitar high wire act, a ridiculous chase for notes with contrapuntal bass/drums and soon enjoined by Kara, Jasenovic and Dirgrius. It’s almost like Yes on speed. But Marrano isn’t far behind to begin with the lyrics and lead the band into the more melodic sections; the band seems to recognize that it’s best serve the shredding judiciously in between moments of accessibility and find the balance between intense musicianship and sweet sounding strains.

Matter of fact, no instruments are even played to start with; “Prelude” is a rich a cappella harmony vocal performance that leads into “A Salesman’s Guide To Nonexistence,” a bombastic blast of rock, and countering Monda are horns and a violin that act like harmonizing vocals.

So the first two tracks begin much like Jellyfish’s heralded Spilt Milk does, but as we move into “Feed The Horses,” the band really begins to bare its prog teeth with the math-y intro and erupting sudden transitions but the melodic sense stays strong, as does Marrano’s strong vocal. It’s also a little funky, but not as funky as the hot buttered soul-jazz of the instrumental “Suspicious Waveforms,” where Jasenovic and Digrius take on roles analogous to Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley. Still, it’s knotty enough hear Mahavishnu lurking around this James Brown groove.

That’s not the end of the tricks Thank You Scientist has up their sleeves; “Blood On The Radio” is a meeting of Slavic wedding music and prog rock but Marrano’s voice easily glides over the busy arrangements. Loaded with start-stops, it rocks, grooves and even swings a little during instrumental break. The mid-tempo smooth and jazzy RnB of “Absentee” as about as soft as it gets on this album, building up to near-metal mode by the time the song concludes.

It isn’t enough to play good, the music made should sound good, too. Thank You Scientist put about as much into appealing to the heart of the rock fan as it does the head, which is to say, plenty. Maps of Non-Existent Places more than deserves its second audition; don’t miss out this time.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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