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Arc Of Life – Arc Of Life

Arc Of Life
Arc Of Life
by Ian Yeara at 19 April 2021, 5:58 PM

Alright, to all you YES fans out there this album is the closest thing we’ve gotten to a real, full length YES LP since "Fly From Here" (I barely even count "Heaven And Earth" as a YES album). So, first of all, this album sounds and feels like YES, even with a couple of newer elements added to the sound, really this is very much grounded in late 90s and early 2000s YES.

Let’s back up a bit, apparently Billy Sherwood, John Davison, and studio drummer Jay Schellen got together to write some music, because apparently Sherwood and Davison couldn’t actually get Steve Howe to write an album with them, even though they’re already in a band together. Seriously before I get into whether this album is any good or not, why the hell isn’t YES releasing new material? Why are Davison and Sherwood starting a whole new band, if it’s literally just going to be the next YES album (they can give all the platitudes they want, album this is a YES album and it’s kind of criminal that it’s not released under the YES name). I’m a huge YES fan and I have lots of issues with how both Jon Anderson and Steve Howe have handled the last 15 years or so. They’ve had so many opportunities to make up, but it seems Howe is too stubborn and prideful and Jon just has so many ideas and very little follow through.

Hell we didn’t even get an LP from ARW which is the BIGGEST crime committed by a YES outfit since they released "Keys To Ascension" as a live album, instead of as a full length LP. YES has a history of this bullshit and it never stops making me sad, so I suppose I should just be happy we have this LP at all, but where is Jon? Where are the actual members of YES? On guitar they got Jimmy Haun who played on 1991’s "Union" and on keys, probably the most curious personnel decision; former SOUND OF CONTACT’s keyboardist Dave Kerzner. It’s a motley crew on paper, but it works.

For better and for worse this album is firmly rooted in the "Talk"/"Magnification" era of YES (1994-2001), it has some moments that remind me of the best parts of "Talk", it has enough of that classic YES flair (even directly quoting a part from "Close To The Edge"), but less 70s and more 90s prog.

Life Has A Way is a solid opener, it sounds more like ASIA than YES, but it’s a fun and catchy song that embraces some of the better aspects of 90s YES and ASIA. "Talking To Siri" is when ARC OF LIFE decides to take a shot at 80s YES, not my favorite era, but they do a decent job, and even if it’s not one of my favorite songs on the album it is pretty catchy.

I actually don’t like "You Make It Real", it’s just a bad ASIA ballad, and this is one of the songs where I have to bring up the mix and production. It’s not awful, but it’s really weird. The production is really thin and John Davison’s voice is already reed thin so the production makes it even worse. The mix is very treble-heavy and you’re going to want to adjust your EQ accordingly when listening to this, and the bass is… thin, it’s the only word that really captures what I think about it. On "You Make It Real" the vocals sound really nasally and the mix on this song especially just isn’t well balanced and it doesn’t seem like they helped the vocals at all in post production which is just bizarre. The production on this album sounds like they attempted to do "Talk", but badly.

Alright enough ranting about the production and back to the music; in the back half of the album it swings wildly between trying to be 70s YES and imitating the "Talk"/"Open Your Eyes" sound, it's a little weird, but it works and the second half of this album is definitely the better half. "Just In Sight" is a perfect example of what I was just talking about. The verses are very 90s YES, but then the bridge sounds part of the "Close To The Edge" intro section, it's a very jarring transition if I'm being honest, but "Close To The Edge" is my favorite YES song, and I actually like 90s YES, so this all works for me. Okay I said the back half is great, but "I Want To Know You Better" is pretty mediocre. It's only like four minutes long and it does have a decent organ solo, but it's still a boring song.

Now we get to the best part of the album, back to back 9 minute songs. At first "Locked Down" scared me because the introduction sounds like it's off one of the 80s YES album, but as the song developed I realized that the band had finally managed to start moving away from the YES sound as much and maybe finding their own sound. I mean it's still a typical Prog Rock sound and I know there are people out there who think that Prog always needs to be finding completely new and different things, but I am not one of them. First of all, there's nothing truly new under the sun. Secondly, the 70s were a really unique time period for popular music as a whole and there's a reason so many bands are still revisiting that 70s, Psychedelic, Rock, and Fusion vibe. I would argue that 70s Prog didn't really have enough time to dig deep enough into that well because the whole point of Prog music is that it is a bottomless well of inspiration and technical mastery. Anyway mini rant aside, "Locked Down" and "Therefore We Are" should both scratch the itch for longer more complex Prog. The bass work on this album is really phenomenal by the way, Billy Sherwood is essentially the successor to Chris Squire in the band itself as well as his technical mastery.

Let me just be clear if you don't like Trevor Rabin's guitar playing, you probably won't like this album. Haun is definitely going for Rabin more than Howe in style, which is disappointing, but as I've said many times, it all works for me. There's a couple stumbling points along the way, but I would still say this album is maybe a little better than "Fly From Here", or at least better paced. With the status of YES as a band being so nebulous we never know if/when we will get another YES album, and the last one was really bad.

Over the course of writing this review I've figured out how I feel about Sherwood and Davison starting a side project instead of releasing an actual YES album; if it means we get more YES "inspired" music then I'll absolutely take it. I just really wish everyone would get back together and make a proper YES album. Forget about needing to tour (because I know that's part of what's holding them up), just release a studio album please. Other than the Anderson/Stolt "Invention of Knowledge" album in 2016, this is the closest thing to a good YES album in maybe 10-20 years (depending on how you feel about "Magnification" and "Fly From Here"), so if you like YES, that should be all you need to know on whether you should purchase this album, even if there are plenty of flaws.

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 8
Production: 6

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Life Has A Way
2. Talking With Siri
3. You Make It Real
4. Until Further Notice
5. The Magic Of It All
6. Just In Sight
7. I Want To Know You Better
8. Locked Down
9. Therefore We Are
10. The End Game
Lineup:
Billy Sherwood – Bass, Vocals
John Davison – Vocals
Jay Schellen – Drums
Jimmy Haun – Guitar
Dave Kerzner – Keyboards
Record Label: Frontiers Music
     


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