The word “progressive” has several different meanings in a musical context. Sometimes it refers to a compositional sensibility which prefers epic, meandering soundscapes to concise, conventional songcraft. Other times, it refers to technical virtuosity which exceeds that of the typical rock band. Finally, it can describe the dogged experimentalism of those determined to ignore existing musical boundaries and explore new sonic frontiers. No matter its connotation, the word “progressive” aptly describes the music of Pure Reason Revolution, a band whose album, The Dark Third, echoes the glories of rock’s past while presenting a unique vision of the musical future.
The Dark Third is the first full-length release from Pure Reason Revolution, a band formed at Westminster University in 2003. Those who have never heard the band would do well to familiarize themselves with the group’s influences. The members have acknowledged their affection for a number of rock bands, including Led Zeppelin and the Super Furry Animals, and music reminiscent of these groups surfaces throughout The Dark Third. The most obvious influence on the band’s sound, though, is Pink Floyd. Many of Pure Reason Revolution’s musical traits can be traced back to Floyd, including the tendency to mix psychedelic soundscapes with soaring vocal melodies and the practice of unifying albums through specific concepts.
The concept that inspired The Dark Third is the relationship between waking life and dreams. The band explores this relationship musically through a series of atmospheric mood pieces which gradually unfold into driving rock songs. Several of the tracks on this album stand out as being particularly inspired. These include “Nimos and Tambos”, a rollicking, guitar-fueled track, and “The Intention Craft”, which blends distorted guitars, electronics, strings, and pianos, and alternates between hushed interludes and scorching choruses. The most inspired aspect of this album, however, is not confined to any single track. To put it simply, the vocals on this album are absolutely stunning. Pure Reason Revolution creates intricate, colorful harmonies which simultaneously point to influences such as the Beach Boys and expand the existing vocabulary of popular music. At times, massive, stacked chords emerge from nowhere and tower above delicate instrumentals. Other passages are dominated by a compelling polyphony, as different voices and distinct melodies intertwine and ensnare the listener.
One track in particular, “The Bright Ambassadors of Morning”, a song which owes its title to Pink Floyd’s, “Echoes”, illustrates both the successes and the failures of Pure Reason Revolution’s musical approach. The song opens with a subdued bass line and a steady drum beat underneath ambient sound effects and ethereal harmonies. The track lasts for nearly 12 minutes, and moves from swirling, psychedelic vocals to swelling, celestial instrumentals. The song reaches its peak when a snarling guitar riff surfaces and carries the music to its exhilarating conclusion. Although individual parts of this track are truly spectacular, the song never fully delivers on the promise of its brightest moments. Instead of finding ways to cleverly navigate transitions, the band simply fades out between sections, thereby losing some of the momentum that is characteristic of the very best music. This criticism applies to the album as a whole. Although The Dark Third is jam-packed with interesting riffs and intriguing harmonies, the band’s tendency to meander between the high points prevents the album from being truly great.
To say that The Dark Third fails to reach true greatness is not to imply that it is anything less than a wonderfully recommendable effort. The remarkable harmonies alone make this album worth a listen, to say nothing of the richly textured, energetic instrumentals. Even those who do not choose to purchase The Dark Third should keep their ears open for future work from Pure Reason Revolution. With their first album, the band has demonstrated more musical creativity than some groups can muster in an entire career. As they continue to mature, they will be able to focus their talent and create even more compelling music and, in all probability, deliver on the promise of greatness contained in The Dark Third.