This is the dramatic prog-rock trio Staring Into Nothing.
The Orange County, California threesome crafts expert level music that is heavily cinematic and often atmospheric with grand sweeping melodies awash in layered guitars, deep piano/synthesizers, and tricky solid beats. At times, Staring Into Nothing can be overtly political with motivations being laid out with a tangible confrontation. The songs are abundantly dosed with lyrics, and coupled with top-notch production values, the words are crystal clear and can weigh heavily in the listener’s ear. With the help of a handful of musicians to round out the band’s often thick, orchestrated sound, 10 songs have been recorded and released under the album title of, “Power”.
Somewhat of a concept album, the general theme revolves around various forms of power and the equally numerable ways it can be abused. This is accomplished with a musically intelligent approach that displays not only the maturity and talent in the players, but also the awareness of song craft and structure that allows complex ideas and movements to blend into pop sensibilities. Steve Rogers generally guides the ship with a skilled piano style and commanding, insistent vocal lines while Savannah Rogers handles guitar (and some amazing solos) and luxuriant backing vocals. Kurt Barabas lays in the bass low end along with some guitars. For some reason, the drummer, Matt Chamberlain, is credited as an additional contributor. I don’t the know the politics of the band, but his percussion work on these multi-movement, semi-complex prog rock adventures is notable. The band isn’t afraid to explore ideas thoroughly as most songs on this release go past the five minute mark, with one opus timing out around 18 minutes. Grand solos are not off the table, nor are interesting diversions to explore something shiny in the corner, all the while maintaining control over the ‘song’ and delivering cohesive, expansive ideas. The easiest touch point for a comparison would be the psychedelic distractions of Pink Floyd and their penchant for the dramatic combined with the honed pop sensibilities of The Police’s deeper catalog.
The album opens with the somber pianos of ‘Puritans’. What starts as an almost sad ballad, finds a tempo shift with the drums focusing the idea into an urgent tone of warning. “Food laws galore… until you can’t feed the poor” chastise the vocals with an unexpected brilliant Gilmore (Pink Floyd) inspired jam out that closes the last chunk of the song… stick with it until the end.
The Pink Floyd comparisons are hard to ignore both in the lyrical phrasing and the minimal structures that build and coalesce into something bigger and more grand by its completion. ‘Obey’ follows this while exploring the helpless states of our oppressed natures. “Just doing my duty all along… following orders can’t be wrong…”
‘Step right up… the greatest show on Earth… with cash in hand, democracy is up for sale… free to choose as long as its heads or tails’ is the opening lyrical salvo from ‘Heads Or Tails’ with the main vocal duties handed in by Savannah Rogers. While her voice had been featured prominently in the backing melodies throughout the album, bringing her front and center on this track shows the truly collaborative nature displayed within Staring Into Nothing. It’s an unexpected shift in sound halfway through the album and the release is stronger for its inclusion.
‘Information Crime’ surprisingly borders on greasy, stoner rock with a blown distortion guitar and some verses resembling the simplistic four bar rhyme schemes that Ozzy Osbourne tends to lean upon for vocal delivery. The song does flow into some more melodic distractions before it finishes, but stands out like a brilliant, well deserved hang-over.
There is an 18 minute song on this album called, ‘Towers (I: Ecstasy / II: Agony)’. That is too long for a single song, even if you suggest it’s two songs in the title. Break up the idea. Sell it in smaller chunks. It’s narcissistic and demanding (challenging?) of the listener to commit to such masturbatory musical ambitions. If one wades into this, it’s actually a jumble of songs bridged together well. Perhaps I am turned off by the sheer audacity of the exercise but it feels drawn out (no way!) and brings the album to a screeching halt. A victim of its own hubris. Now that I’ve made all the fuss, you know you want to hear what kind of musical idea could only be expressed in an 18 minute journey. Here ya go…
It’s the unexpected shifts, the left turns, the risks taken with mashing genres and approaches that keeps the interest up while listening to Staring Into Nothing. The album closer, ‘Gates Of Hell’ shows this mentality with the metallic funk break that makes up a sassy bridge towards the end of the song.
Throughout “Power”, Staring At Nothing take their deep understanding of music and weave their craft into progressive, intricate, layered ideas that are both dreamy with nods towards 60’s psychedelia, but with a much more controlled approach. The songs are rarely, ‘jammy’, with all detours planned in advance. The textures are considered, the genres are blended, and the tension is built and released with an organic ease. Likewise, the upfront vocals showcase their straight-ahead prose with confidence, delivering messages hard to miss. The intention with which this is all created is undeniable, both in the music and vision.
The band weighs in what the concept of ‘Power’ meant to the title and the songs on this release:
“We are very excited our first album Power has been released. This is an album built around the theme of “power” and the many ways it is abused. Power to control the behavior of others. Power to punish for victimless crime. Power to manipulate the attitudes and beliefs of people. Power to exercise judgment and marginalize those outside the norm. Power to impose dogma, religion, morality, and election results. The power of the church, of the state and the police. Our society so often rewards “doing things right,” it can be hard to alternatively “do the right things.” Blind obedience does great harm. Bureaucracy grows and eventually becomes more powerful than elected officials as we drive toward goals that are no longer the right ones. We become consumed by “the momentum disease” and keep doing it because that’s the way we have always done it. Indoctrination by the media, by school textbook, and by prescription drugs. So many signals telling us to be normal; to be like us… Believe instead of investigate. Consume instead of create. Obey instead of question… Fear is the enemy that tears us down. Security is the need for which we sacrifice so much. How will we keep our institutions from consuming us, the humans they were meant to serve? What will increase in our future; freedom, happiness and creativity or control, interdiction and compliance? Will Hey Siri turn into Hey Big Brother?”
To hear the rest of the album as well as see lyric sheets for all the songs, check the Staring Into Nothing BandCamp site.