I have to admit that I, like many people, no doubt, checked out this band because its singer and drummer is Simon Collins … Phil’s son. I mean, who wouldn’t be curious? However, being a noted proghead and no stranger to neo-prog either, I could be considered the band’s target demographic as well.
Interestingly, I had no idea that the band contains a Canadian element (your humble host here is quite Canadian). Apparently the band is working on a follow-up to this fine debut as we write.
Basically, Dimensonaut is a mixture of two kinds of prog: classic prog of the Genesis/Rush/Yes variety, and the more melodic, AOR-influenced prog of bands like IQ, Saga, and Porcupine Tree. In fact, considering the Canadian connection, Sound of Contact could be considered the rightful inheritors of Saga’s arty AOR crown.
First off, yes, you can hear traces of the Collins family pipes in Simon, but by no means is he copying anything about Dad’s vocal style; it’s more a timbral thing. His vocals are strong and a bit rougher compared with Phil’s Motown-influenced (later) style.
This is very much a sci-fi concept album, which will either strengthen or weaken its appeal to you. These days, more direct, emotive music such as Steven Wilson’s Hand.Cannot.Erase or Anathema’s oeuvre seems to be the order of the day; concept albums sometimes, but ones that deal with kitchen-sink reality, not galactic matters. Even IQ’s last effort was about a serial killer, not an outer space serial killer. But presumably Sound of Contact has no objection, much like Coheed and Cambria, to being a throwback to the glory days of big, grand concepts.
However, the music and melody is where the action is. The first two tracks set the melodic table of a sound based on up-front guitar stylings clearly in that Rothery/Hackett/Lifeson camp. “Cosmic Distance Ladder”, a heavy instrumental, is not unlike some of the tracks on Rush’s Clockwork Angels. Very pleasant and well-done prog, but to to be honest, the songs are where this album really shines. “Pale Blue Dot” is a supremely melodic number with great spacy sequenced synths, a commanding vocal from Collins that makes things about “prison planets” sound quite serious. Great chorus too. In the alternate world in my head, this is quite the large hit.
It’s followed by another heart-grabber, “I Am Dimensonaut”, which again manages to overcome the conceptual heavyhandedness of its theme rather than sink beneath it, with lyrics that can be taken as inspirational sentiments on their own. That’s the trick, really; your lyrics have to be able to stand alone in a way that could be interpreted personally by the listener. There’s some lovely piano on this Marillion-esque ballad that should appeal to any fan of modern prog. And the classical-style mid-section comes straight out of the golden years!
Not content with these styles, Sound of Contact throws in a spacy midtempo ballad with a Beatle-esque vibe sure to please Steven Wilson fans, “Not Coming Down“. Guest vocalist Hannah Stobart enhances “Beyond Illumination”, which is good, because the techno-reggae style of the verses almost doesn’t quite make it. It’s saved by a very nice chorus. “Realm of In-Organic Beings” is a really pretty orchestral-sounding prog instrumental with a female vocal that pays sly homage to Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.”
Another beautiful ballad, “Only Breathing Out”, has some really great chiming jangle-guitars in a swooning space-rock chorus with dream pop overtones, and yes, there’s even another sweet mid-tempo heart-tugger, “Closer to You”, to help close out the plot. And if all this wasn’t enough, you get the twenty minutes of “Möbius Slip”, a full epic that mixes atmospheric sections approaching ambient with some of the heaviest riffing on the record, as well as some classic Genesis/IQ-style sections (including mellotron and synth solo!). Worth the price of the album alone!
The impressive thing about this record is the way band does, yes, remind me of Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, IQ, etc., not as an imitator but as a contemporary with an approach all its own. There is a great deal of confidence on this album that should be a harbinger of great things to come, so I’m glad more is apparently on the way, and I hope commercial success in some form follows as well.