There’s more than an element of Spock’s Beard about Pattern-Seeking Animals, with three band members in common. It was no surprise then that this album, the second from the Californian band, is lauded as progressive art rock. As for the title, prehensile is the word used for a monkey’s tail which is long and clings to trees. There are certainly some long songs here, the longest being around 17 minutes on this six track work.
I confess I was half expecting something self-indulgent – it is prog, after all – but the sunny rhythm of the opener “Raining Hard in Heaven” was a very pleasant surprise. It stops and there’s a keyboard orientated prog harmony in the middle. Anyone knowing Spock’s Beard, Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater will know where Pattern-Seeking Animals are coming from. There’s a solo guitar section and moments of symphony but this is about sophisticated patterns and gentle suggestions of drama. “Raining Hard in Heaven” is divided into several pieces. “Here in my Autumn” starts in willowy fashion. The song is fresh and unpretentious. Symphonic sounds pass through a catalogue of delicate sounds which signal fluttering leaves. The guitar solo cuts in at just the right time and pitch, before we return to the catchy song and chorus. “Here in my Autumn” is a delightful experience.
“Elegant Vampires” presents another lush landscape. It’s soft in the centre but structured with great emotional power. It may be about vampires but you can dream away to this one. Synth player John Boegehold’s contribution is immense here as it is throughout this rich album. Ted Leonard’s vocals are immaculate for the verdant landscape. What makes this all stand out from your average prog is that there is quirkiness, eccentricity and playfulness. “Why Don’t We Run” has shades of Mexico running through this simple song, then lo, there is a trumpet section. It’s fun.
I suspected something big was on the cards, not least because “Lifeboat” is 17 minutes long. The start has the flamboyance and bombast of a Haken track. It’s retro with its 70s synth-organ sound. The sound is that of Astra or Pink Floyd, or 70s again, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Again, that playfulness is there and again the simplicity is deceptive. “Lifeboat” took me over like a novel you can’t put down. The imagination is stratospheric. This simple tale branches out and we hear the sound of the water, before pumping sounds emerge and we are in the midst of emotional drama. “Save me” implores the vocalist as the scene gets richer and richer, with the trumpet in the background and the drum beating like a heart. This fluid prog number is taking us to heaven and beyond. The vocalist exudes expression. The instrumental work is colourful. There is tangible melancholy yet it’s heart-warming. “Lifeboat” is a kaleidoscope of power and emotion. Follow that. Well Pattern-Seeking Animals touch our senses again out in a different way. “Soon But Not Today” goes upbeat, so bringing out of our post-Lifeboat trance, and even indulges in a bit of reggae, the ideal foil for this exuberance. I reckon they’ve got Haken beat on this one. Symphony, prog, drifty haunting keys, solemn piano and willowy tones – it all adds up to a musical wonderland with sensitive and accessible lyrics. You couldn’t imagine that such a panoply of sounds could add up to something so wondrous. There’s something of the later Beatles about all this, with the carefully arranged pomp, splendour, extravagance and riot of musical range.
What a wonderful album. “Prehensile Tales” is a stunning journey. Each of these six songs is a masterpiece, developing delightfully like a blooming flower. Pattern-Seeking Animals take us everywhere with their unquenchable imagination and delicate twists and turns. I just felt joy when listening to this album.
(10/10 Andrew Doherty)