Perhaps the greatest success of Thank You Scientist’s debut EP, The Perils Of Time Travel, is that it is accessible while also eluding the most pedestrian trappings of genre. The New Jersey-based seven-piece round out the typical rock quartet with violin, viola, saxophone, trumpet and keyboards, among other additional instrumentation. While that may seem a little avant-garde or excessive, the songs remain coherent and easy to get into, even if you’re not a musician.
Equal parts rock band and jazz ensemble, Thank You Scientist provide plenty of vocal hooks and rhythmic and harmonic trickery to excite the attention of both the casual music listener and the prog/fusion enthusiast. It’s not a heavy record but you certainly won’t doze off to it.
The band keep it interesting by straying from traditional pop song arrangements, seldom repeating the same music in verse sections while staying Earthbound by reinforcing hooks and vocal refrains. And, in spite of their considerable instrumental ability, they never appear to get so impressed with themselves that they spend an entire song showing off. The emphasis is on coherence and each of the five tracks are at least five minutes in length, with the longest at just over seven minutes.
A profound Frank Zappa influence is evident throughout the record. Particularly on “Grin,” which opens the record, weaving in and out of distorted guitar-driven verses, provided by Tom Monda, filled out by robust and warm but percussive basslines from Greg Colacino and an ever so sweet saxophone solo from Ellis Jasenovic.
Soloing is a hallmark of progressive music and especially jazz, it’s also what gives fodder to critics of those genres. But the band leaves self-indulgence out of the equation. There are solos, however each feels like it belongs to the song as a bridge or transition to another section. And it’s good to hear nearly every member get a featured section. Monda, even as the band’s main songwriter only takes a couple solos on the record.
Monda, the band’s primary creative force, stays in the background for most of the record, using his razor sharp guitar chops to hold down oft-syncopated rhythms, add volume to harmonies with the horns and tastefully layer the compositions with delay, reverb and overdrive. The first true guitar solo doesn’t appear until the third track, “Leave Your Light On,” when Monda flys off the handle with a brief but effective, ‘whoa’-inducing fretburner that comes when you least expect it.
One of the strongest tracks is the cleverly titled “Make Like A Tree (And Get Out),” with its big chorus and memorable bridge. The ghost of Zappa also reappears on this track around the 3:50 mark, when the band go from staccato accents on the upbeats in 4/4 to an intricately harmonized section that alternates measures of 7/8 and 5/8. I replayed these 30 seconds of the song no fewer than 10 times to try and figure out what the hell was happening. (I should admit that I initially thought the 7 to 5 section was in 12/8, but Monda himself corrected me.) There are at least two solos, tenor saxophone and marimbas (I guess that doesn’t make them solos, but I don’t know what else to call them), going on at the same time beneath a melody played by the rest of the group.
“Gemini,” the EP’s finale, is the longest track on the record, clocking in at just over seven minutes. It begins with a Yes-affected melody from Monda and the gang that leads into the breathy tenor of singer Sal Marrano. The adept hooks provided by Marrano prevail throughout the record in giving the listener something to latch onto amongst all the instrumental wizardry. Marrano takes a minute to rest after the bridge when the band allows themselves to take off for one last time.
At this point, it would take no less than a road map to describe what is happening structurally. There’s another bridge (or two or three) after the first in which drummer Odin (By God, is his name really Odin? That’s awesome!) Alvarez throws some double bass drum kicks into the mix to thicken the riff. A lightning-fast Dream Theater-esque run evaporates into another mellow tenor solo, taking the tune from the edge of heavy metal to spacey jazz odyssey instead. A synth solo is followed by the second guitar solo on the CD—another impressive flourish—which builds up the song’s climax.
This debut by Thank You Scientist is a terrific helping of nouveau prog that readily nods to the greats of the ‘70s and ‘80s like Zappa, Yes, King Crimson, Rush and Mahavishnu Orchestra while also giving us plenty that we’ve never heard before. The Perils Of Time Travel is a worthy 30-minute EP that New Jersey can be proud of. Thank you, gentlemen!
In A Word: Bravo