Noise Floor, Spock’s Beard’s 13th album is the latest from the progressive rock pioneers. For most of the bands existence now, Spock’s Beard has been in a difficult position. After being perhaps the defining neo-prog band coming into the 21st century, they lost founding member Neal Morse in 2002, and struggled to define their sound without him and live up to their early releases. They released a number of good albums in the decade that followed, but for many prog fans, the shadow of Morse still loomed large over the band.
In 2012, the release of Brief Nocturnes and a Dreamless Sleep represented a rebirth of sorts for the band – and an opportunity to step out of that shadow. With new vocalist Ted Leonard, they created an album that was fresh and represented a clear path forward and evolution for the band, but also still strongly connected with the great albums of the past. Following 2015’s The Oblivion Particle, Noise Floor represents a perfect continuation of the bands evolution with a firm grip on what made the band great in the past: It stands shoulder to shoulder with the albums like The Light and Snow that solidified them as one of the best progressive rock bands of the modern era.
As I listen to Noise Floor, I have a hard time picking out highlights. That’s not because there is any shortage of good songs or great musicianship on the album: It’s because with each listen something else strikes me or pulls in my attention in a way that it hadn’t on a previous listen. On one occasion, the relatively straightforward wistfulness of “Days We’ll Remember” might be a highlight, but other times it’s the proggier “Have We All Gone Crazy Yet.” Or maybe I replay the prog tour-de-force closer “Armageddon Nervous” an extra couple times after it finishes.
The album feels adept both from a technical perspective and from a songwriting perspective. The longer songs never seem overlong, the instrumental sections are fun and inventive, the shorter tracks are still smart and effective, and it has the hallmarks – not of a bunch of old guys running out of ideas – but of experienced musicians who are learning and growing with each album.
Featuring a broad range of emotions, and songs that run the gamut between barnburners and ballads, Noise Floor demonstrates skill in songwriting, arrangement, and performance. Spock’s Beard shows us that after 23 years of revolution and evolution, they’re still one of the best progressive rock bands in the world.