The difficult second album is a cliché, but you suspect this Californian quartet’s third outing made their two previous, widely appreciated long players seem like a stroll in the park in comparison to the departure of both their original drummer and bassist in early 2016. But the creative core of singer Ryan Hurtgen and producer/guitarist Johannes Luley have overcome that setback with a new line- up to make their most adventurous record to date.
The sleeve’s 3D graph image, and the Germanic, Krautrock- ish title immediately suggest we’re in for some serious math prog schooling. That’s not Perfect Beings’ style at all, but they dabble in a pretty heaped handful of other genres over four (hence the title) 16-18 minute suites.
They’re not afraid of traditional musical tropes, though. Such as vocal harmonies, a chattering, multi-part variety of which open the record on A New Pyramid. Once joined by obtuse woodwind notes and a rhythm resembling a drum kit falling down a flight of stairs, there’s the hint of jazz explorations being kept tightly on a leash. But then that passage ends with a snatch of the album’s linchpin chorus from Enter The Center, and the mention of ‘freedom when you call me’ heralds a more inviting musical landscape.
Things then become notably more ethereal for a while. The Persimmon Tree’s sweetly mournful descending piano loop, skittering flute accompaniment and rattling timpani sound like the introduction to a ballet, before more jarring, anxious notes chime in to darken the mood and thrust us into a chapter from a psychological thriller. No single mood lasts for long here, though, and Patience throws the shutters open on sunny keyboards and an invitation, paraphrasing Leonard Cohen, to ‘Dance to me your beauty with a burning violin.’
Later, a whole diaspora of influences is at play: the austere futurescapes of Berlin-era Bowie; Philip Glass’s elegant avant- classical flourishes; then there are echoes of Air on The System And Beyond and touches of Nick Drake on Everything’s Falling Apart. But in-between times we’re regularly hit with perfectly progtastic storms of scattershot percussion, stabby riffs and fizzy, furious keyboard scribbles on tracks such as Lord Wind. It’s only after four or five listens that melodic strands start to fuse together, familiarise with each other, and you begin to really enjoy the ride.
Lyrically, it’s an even more impenetrable affair – indeed, when they rhyme ‘tangerine dancers’ with ‘mysteries not answers’, that seems to say it all – they’d rather beguile than be boring or trite, and it suits this continuously shape- shifting, wrong-footing style of music perfectly.