Review by C.: The Promise of a Wonderful Future is an aptly-titled album title for Pennsylvanian prog-rock outfit Clark’s Secret Identity. A year after their self-titled debut EP, CSI continues to bring their special brand of art-rock to listeners who are looking for something a little different than your average prog-rock release. Continuing to infuse their wide range of musical influences—from gothic to ‘80s new wave to symphonic metal to classic rock—CSI is not content to be “average” or “typical”. Pennsylvania can boast quite a healthy prog-rock scene of their own, and CSI makes it a point to stand out among all the others.
Experimentation is key with this band, and you can hear that from the melodic xylophone parts on the album opener, “Dolce Vita”. While CSI has grown to a 4-piece band since the recording of this album, everything here is done by just 3 musicians, and one is in awe of how multi-talented vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Shane Anthony is (the other two bandmembers also have talent of their own to spare, but I’ll get to that in a minute). Opting for a fuzzier guitar sound that hearkens more to stoner rock than progressive, it might seem out of place for its genre, but when CSI couples it next to the melodic piano and tinkling xylophone, it just sounds so right. Parts of it are somewhat Tool-like, but could not be called a copy or clone of them by any stretch of the imagination. Drummer Matthew Bankes opts for a slower approach on this track, instead of attempting to show off how close to Neil Peart he can sound, the way that so many prog-rock and prog-metal drummers try to do. Bassist Keith Horning also holds down the rhythm without getting too over-the-top. There are futuristic whistling sounds; not sure if this is done by keyboard or by another instrument, but it puts on some extra spice on this mellow, groove-laden opening track.
Just as all other bands are products of their environment, and is as part of the band’s core sound as the musicians and instruments themselves, CSI pays tribute to their home state throughout this album, with references to real-life places (“Down at Ridley Park”, a cinematic, avant-garde piece that almost sounds like it would be in a horror or suspense film), tributes to the everyday, regular people that cross our paths (“Gas Station Heroes”, the album’s closer), and a pondering perspective on what those lives must be like (“To Those Still Grieving”, the lyrics of which refer to Shane’s former job placing gravestones at cemetery sites—complete with lovely string work, this is my favorite track on the album). The band also addresses very human themes lyrically as well, such as the song “Opacity” (the band’s second single), which is about broken trust and the process of forgiveness. Shane also writes music about his artistic process as well, such as the song “Into a Thousand Pieces”, about musical growth and finding the right people to share your artistic vision. “Oblivious”—a song about a misfit kid growing up without friends—is a slow, sultry track that instantly makes you feel as if you’ve wandered into a smoky jazz nightclub on a rainy night.
Of course, prog-rock wouldn’t be complete without lengthy tracks or political/social lyrics, and CSI delivers on that too, with the 8-minute track “An Indecent Solution”, one of the first lyrics written by Matt, about the war crisis in Syria, and the overall futility of war; and musically sounds like a hybrid of Yes, Tool, Radiohead, and Pink Floyd (yet again, without sounding like any of those bands at all). “Down at Ridley Park” is another track that crosses the 8-minute mark, but most of the songs on the album average about 5-6 minutes. “The Unwanted” is probably the best representation of CSI’s foray into experimentation with different sounds—you can hear everything here: rockabilly, psychedelic rock, pop, punk, and everything else that defines CSI’s sound, all within 5 minutes.
Within the realm of prog-rock, this leans more towards the spectrum that is all about setting a tone or mood, and not so much caught up on the odd time-signatures, constant soloing or musicianship for its own sake (the tropes that critics of prog-rock often cite when listing their reasons for having little patience with the genre). To give examples, they are more in line with a Pink Floyd or Radiohead than a Dream Theater or Yes (not that they cannot go to that side of the prog-rock playground, so to speak). Hell, sometimes they even channel bands like Queens of the Stone Age or The Cure! The music has a more earthy, folksy feel; less of a complex or dramatic sound. Much as I love all those things about prog-rock, I also love those bands that focus more on storytelling and creating ambiance. CSI is a band I like to throw on when I want to get lost in music, and wind down into their sonic soundscape. If you are looking for the type of music that takes you to another place and brings you out of yourself for a little while, then come along with Clark’s Secret Identity and let them take you for a ride.
My rating: 85/100 (Good in its own genre, recommended for those hooked on it!)