Album Review: Thank You Scientist, “Stranger Heads Prevail”

thank-you-scientistIf beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then strange must be as well. While Thank You Scientist may sound strange in the world of popular music, their intelligent brand of alternative rock mixed with progressive metal and jazz fusion is right at home in the world of prog.

TYS were welcomed into the progressive rock community with open arms upon the release of their first full length studio album, Maps of Non-Existent Places, in 2012—leading to invitations to play at two of the biggest prog festivals in North America shortly thereafter: North Carolina’s Prog Day in 2013 and Pennsylvania’s Rites of Spring Festival in 2014. As someone who saw them play at RoSFest, I can attest that they thoroughly killed it.  The group received a lot of exposure and were quickly signed to Coheed and Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez’ label Evil Ink records. TYS have now returned with their second full length album, Stranger Heads Prevail, which sees them continue to boldly forge their own unique musical path. Strange or not, one thing is for sure… TYS prevail on this audacious new release.

This album sees TYS continue in the same direction as Maps of Non-Existent Places. While they don’t really break new ground, they continue to cultivate their eclectic mix of alternative rock, metal, jazz fusion, and funk with unique instrumentation—even among progressive rock bands—that combines typical rock instruments with saxophone, trumpet, and violin. Its important to point out that the horns and violin aren’t used occasionally on a few tracks as you might find on other prog albums. These instruments are fully integrated into the band’s sound across the entire album. In this sense, the instruments fill the space of a keyboard in the song arrangements.

The album opens with “Prologue: A Faint Applause,” a short intro track that serves as a prelude to the rest of the album. It begins with a lush a cappella section in much the same way as Maps of Non-Existent Places, then moves into a theatrical section with strings reminiscent of Queen.

Next we have “The Somnabulist,” which kicks off sounding like a demented metal circus. It has the signature frenetic energy that fans have come to expect from TYS. The track takes the listener through a rollercoaster of dynamic contrast, alternating frequently between crescendo and restrained energy waiting to be unleashed. Sal Marrano’s vocals really soar throughout this track, as they do on much of the album. The horns and violin aren’t used for jazz here, but more so to create dense harmonic arrangements in the ethos of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4.” The overall approach on this track certainly has elements of Chicago and Zappa, but without sounding derivative.

The first “single” on the album (if you can call anything on this album a single) was “Blue Automatic.” The song was released prior to the full album and is one of the more straightforward tracks on the album. Prog fans may be more drawn to the second single, “Mr. Invisible,” which was released with an abstract music video. Perhaps the height of the jazz fusion sound on the album, “Mr. Invisible” seamlessly integrates heavier elements as well. This song is very catchy and a great starting point for those new to the band. But be warned: it’s definitely an earworm and you’re likely to find yourself humming the chorus for days. The track features an amazing tenor sax solo by the ever-impressive Ellis Jasenovic (which was one of the high points of their live show on their recent tour).

No TYS album would be complete without an instrumental. This time we get the lengthy “Rube Goldberg Variations,” clocking in at almost 9 minutes. This track gives each instrument a chance to be featured… well, except for the Theremin. But maybe the guys are saving the deep-cut Theremin solo for next time. (One can only hope.)  The track opens serenely before settling into a laidback jazz groove reminiscent of Frogg Cafe, another progressive rock/jazz fusion band from the Mid-Atlantic U.S. Half-way through, the track kicks into high gear. Tom Monda’s guitar solo on this track is one of my favorites on the album, melding shred and jazz, although his fretless guitar work on “Psychopomp” also deserves an honorable mention.

Stranger Heads Prevail should please existing fans of TYS and hopefully win over new audiences to this exceptionally talented and original band. After two full-length albums and one EP of great material, I can’t wait to see where this band goes next.  Highly recommended to open-minded prog fans of all types who enjoy an eclectic mix of rock, metal, and jazz fusion.

Purchase the album on the their website, on Amazon, or on iTunes.  Available on CD, vinyl, and digital download.

Thank You Scientist Line-up:

Salvatore Marrano: Vocals
Tom Monda: Fretted and fretless guitar, acoustic guitar, shamisen, sitar, vocals
Cody McCorry: Bass, Theremin, saw
Odin Alvarez: Drums
Ben Karas: Violin, viola, five string electric violin
Ellis Jasenovic: Tenor saxophone
Andrew Digrius: Trumpet, flugelhorn

With Guest Musicians:

Mark Radice: Vocals, piano, keys
AJ Merlino: Percussion (mallets and hands)
Sean Redman: Timpani
Gergly Kiss: Cello
Tory Anne Daines: Viola
Rebecca Harris: Violin
Bumblefoot: Vocals on “Prologue”
The Spectrum Vocal Ensemble: Gang vocals

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