This year’s review – and this album – is different. Maybe its that the site proprietor Pete Pardo did the honors this time – and has less of an axe to grind (Steve Reid from last year’s review admittedly didn’t “get” some of the anit-american zeal of america’d, attributing it to his Scottishness).
Anyway – here ’tis!
Ben Sommer is a composer, musician, and performer from Massachussetts, and he’s just released his second album of quirky, politically charged progressive rock, titled Super Brain. Actually, Super Brain was originally intended to be his debut back in 2003, but he wound up putting it aside at the time, instead choosing to work on and release America’d. Now here we are in early 2012, and Super Brain is finally seeing the light of day. If Sommer originally put this one on the shelf due to its ‘uncommercial’ nature, 9 years later it’s still pretty ‘out there’ for mainstream tastes, but there actually lies the charm in this 35 minute CD. Ben plays most of the instruments here, though helped out on drums, horns, reeds, and keyboards by a few guest musicians. You can instantly hear his love of acts such as Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, XTC, and Utopia from the first few tracks “Young Turks”, “I Married a Prostitute”, and “Baby Mother”, and his metal roots come out on the raucous “Cadaverism”. Sommer is a pretty tasty guitar player to boot, adding plenty of eclectic solos throughout these songs that recall Zappa and Robert Fripp. One of the most successful tracks here is the dark prog monster “De Profundis”, featuring some menacing guitar shards and haunting keyboards, which recall Red era King Crimson, and “Dark Grey Matter” also has that sinister feel, but also includes some nimble bass lines from Sommer to go along with tasty angular guitar work. The general wackiness and complex structures of “Cloaca Maxima” should certainly appeal to fans of Frank Zappa’s late 70’s/early 80’s material, and in a way it’s kind of refreshing because you don’t hear many bands or artists trying this sort of thing these days.
On the downside, I’m not a big fan of Sommer’s vocals, which lack variety & melody at times and can kind of grate after a while. He also at times tries to be a bit too complex for complexities sake with the arrangements, which can make for a tiring listen for those looking for solid song structures and catchy melodies. However, if a little bit of avant-garde in your prog doesn’t bother you, there’s enough to recommend here on Super Brain for all those who need a little extra humor, politics, and complex musical adventures in their lives.