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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Secret Aging Men

Fully Functional

Review by Gary Hill

The human mind needs frames of reference. That's why albums should have variety. So few bands can create a disc of instrumental music and have it hold up to a close listening. Their music tends to have too many similarities for it not to blend together. Unfortunately I can't say that Secret Aging Men are one of the exceptions. These guys produce a killer form of fusion with strong progressive rock leanings. Any song on this disc taken by itself is a killer. The problem is that when you sit down and really listen to the whole thing, nothing has a unique identity. All the tracks blend into each other. Now, if you are looking for something to put on in the background and not really pay attention to, this is perfect. But if you want to really be challenged and entertained by a disc for a intense listening experience, I can pretty much guarantee you'll be bored here. That's a crying shame, too because this music is so good that it really deserves to be heard. The problem is that with this lack of variance after the first three or four songs you really tend to drift away. I found myself having to pause the disc and walk away for a while to make it through such a thorough listening. These guys are really good and create some wonderful music. I just hope that next time I around they figure out a way to change things up more so that you can actually hear all their killer tracks.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Let's Do Launch
First off, kudos for the title, you have to love clever song titles. This one starts with an odd sort of fast paced jam, but quickly shifts gears into a killer fusion jam. At a little less than two and a half minutes and with some killer jamming in that brief time frame, you have to think that this is just about a perfect opening number. The guitar work on this one is simply incredible, but that doesn't mean that anything else is lacking because everyone certainly pulls their own weight. I actually hear a little bit of a Steve Howe sound on this one.

Space of Ages
This one comes in a lot more sedately than the first cut did. It grows ever so gradually into a mellower jam that has similar textures to the previous piece. I hear a bit of Three of a Perfect Pair King Crimson on here at times, but overall this stays closer to the jazz end of things.
Plug N Play
Appropriately this one has more of a playful texture to it. It feels more open and free in its sedate exuberance. As this moves forward it becomes a more and more intense performance and I'd have to say one of the best on the disc. These guys really know how to lay down some tasty melody lines and keep it all within a coherent musical groove.

Motor Homage
Now, there's another clever title! Not that the last couple haven't been, but this one and the opener are worthy of mention. This is a slower fusion groove that has a bit more sedate and tentative tone at first. This is one of only three songs that weigh in at over 7-minutes, so it's one of the longest numbers on show here. They use that extra space to take their time and work with reconstructing and rearranging the sounds here. Their first path is towards something that reminds me of a more fusion like approach to something akin to one of the Grateful Dead's "space jams." As this one builds up from there I again here hints of Steve Howe like guitar work at points. The jamming on this one turns downright spastic at points, but still with a lot of tasty flavor to the melody lines. This one does show the most possibility of flying out of control of anything thus far, though, but the guys seem to be always able to rein it in within the allotted duration.

Planet of Infinite Pleasure
Do you remember that episode of Star Trek where they beam down…oh, never mind. While this is essentially a fairly sedate fusion jam, there are hints of Hawkwind like space weirdness that flit around the outskirts of the arrangement from time to time. This never really goes far, but it lives in a good place, any way.

Sprung
Now this one is a bit on the noisy side. The jazzy tones wander all over this in raucous jamming that feels a bit chaotic. I'm not overly crazy about this piece, but it does have some cool moments. The segment that showcases the keyboard solo is more appealing to me than a lot of the rest of this.
Crystalline
This one is the second longest piece of music on the CD at just about seven and a half minutes. It starts with more chaotic fusion, but eventually begins to transform into something that's more melodic. This is another solid jam. The only problem is that by this point it's all starting to meld together a bit.

Star Crossed
This is more of the same in a way, but it definitely has a more sedate tone that contributes some variety to the disc.

Time to Heal
Now this one actually seems a bit different. The piece has more of a groove to it than a lot of the stuff here, and that change seems to make it stand out above the din of similarity. It's a shame they don't change things up more often on this disc. The music here is too good to have it lost in an endless sea of stuff that sounds too similar. The even turn this one a bit staccato later, and I hear some Steve Howe like elements on this one, too - along with a healthy dose of Pat Metheny
Conversations
For a change of pace, look no further than this cut, the longest one on the disc. It starts with a percussive sort of texture and little bits of spoken voice tossed over the top. This moves in sort of quirky open electronic percussive jam for quite some time. After a time more and more instruments join, but still the texture remains unusual. Eventually some semblance of melody begins to emerge, but it's not certain at first if it will take hold or not. In many ways, it doesn't grow. Well, at least not in the way you would expect. Frantic riffing begins to take this in a freeform slightly chaotic excursion that seems as if the seeds that were planted have sprouted into some voracious spreading weed. Normally I don't enjoy this sort of aural chaos, but after the incessant similarity of much of this music, it's a welcome relief.

World Is Shame
This guitar dominated jam is a bit in the vein of Frank Zappa at time, but also has plenty of fairly smooth fusion sounds, too.

Departure
Space starts this off, but then it seems to coalesce into another smooth fusion groove. In many ways this one is so much like the rest of the disc. It does make for a good closer, though. I suppose, though, that any of the songs would work in that slot.

 
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