Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sound of Contact and the Approval of the Faceless

The progeny of past musical icons often find themselves in artistically perplexing and complex positions. For example, I’d love to be able to say that I could listen to Dimensionaut free of the temptation to compare Simon Collins to his father Phil, and by extension, Sound of Contact to Genesis. It seems, however, that I am not that big.

In my defense, though, Collins Jr. does not make it easy. There are definitely musical similarities, some of which might even be the result of his genes, and he capitalizes on them. Within his comfort zone, his vocal tone is immediately reminiscent of Collins Sr, but he doesn’t cut loose in the timbral extremes that his father played with. Collins Jr. also has a drumming style that is also clearly influenced by his father, and the drum sounds on Dimensionaut plainly reveal the way in which he intends to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Despite these similarities, however, Collins Jr. is not his father, yet we find him assembling a contemporary progressive rock band with the implicit expectation to step into his parent’s shoes: an expectation that forces him to decide whether he plans to speak to his own generation or gain the approval of his father’s residual audience.

A desire for approval can be an incredibly destructive trait. The times in my life that I have been the most unhappy are inevitably surrounded by a nearly obsessive need to get approval, often from someone who does not readily give approval at all. It took some serious reflection to learn to accept this about myself and let go of the opinions of others. Seeking approval in a musical situation can be similarly destructive. Basing artistic directions on the assumed opinions of a faceless audience is a slippery slope, and reciprocally, self-absorbed narcissism can wear thin in the long term.

I think, however, that Collins Jr. is genuine about bearing the torch for his father’s more progressive roots. Admittedly, there are some music traits that are passed down genetically, but the style of music that children adopt is largely the product of their environment. Collins Jr. was obviously around a lot of his father’s music growing up. With the collaborative presence of Dave Kerzner, whose pedigree has its own intersections with Genesis, Dimensionaut is actually very good. It’s great, keyboard-based approach recalls 90s neo-prog stalwarts IQ, but Sound of Contact is far more muscular and engaging, due in no small part to Collins’ drumming.

The lyrics, however, sometimes wear thin under the weight of making big ideas accessible, and occasionally border on the trite. Collins Sr. did have some success in crossing over between progressive and pop music, but historically, this kind of crossover has seen more strain than success. Most of the lyric weaknesses have started to fade for me, however, as I become more familiar with the instrumental, melodic, technical, and structural strengths of Dimensionaut as a whole.

Additionally, I am not sure that there is a place for Sound of Contact to cross over into. Traditional prog to pop cross overs feel a bit “adult contemporary” by today’s standards, and the video for this “single” does not do much to help this generalization. Still, when the Genesis-influenced bridge kicks in, Sound of Contact shines musically.

Dimensionaut leaves room for improvement, but it captures a rare combination of nostalgia, novelty, and authenticity that the current progressive rock scene needs. There is certainly enough of an indie prog audience that wants to see Collins Jr. succeed to warrant his band’s presence in the community. Point being, he is probably smart to invest in his father’s progressive fanbase, and is probably having a lot of rewarding fun doing it, too.

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