Review Summary: Oh my science!
As musical tastes have been weathered by the squall of material available in the digital age, so has the shock and awe of being exposed to prodigious talent. As it stands, there exists a perforated line bisecting the tastefully technical from and the superfluous technical, but it's well on its way to merging into one solid entity. The mentality of the armchair elite has gotten to a point that often times, as soon as an instrumentalist dares to flex his technical muscles within the parameters of rock music, it is seen as overly-indulgent, and ultimately unnecessary to the artistic statement of a work. Believing such a broad maxim as this one, of course, is theoretically unsound. So why such an inane shift of musical paradigm? Has our collective cynicism reached such a high that virtuosic music has become altogether obsolete?
I present the preceding thesis because upon presenting New Jersey septet Thank You Scientist's debut album to a friend of mine, it was quickly dismissed as "post-hardcore with some random cool parts thrown in." While initially, this may be true in the sense that Thank You Scientist are intrepid of mundane genre categorization, the material presented on their debut LP almost never feels as if they are tacked on or pleonastic to the album's musical theme.
With "Maps of Non-Existent Places", Thank You Scientist have created one of the most unique and immediately gratifying albums I have listened to in a while. The facade these seven talented individuals construct could best be described as a coalescence of jazz-fusion, post-hardcore, metal, and pop. It's absolutely salient to note, that the term "jazz-fusion" is not used as a descriptor to up the ostensible quality of this record. While at its core, "Maps of Non-Existent Places" is quite clearly an alternative rock/post-hardcore record, the musicianship is set into motion with such finesse and musical sensibility that there are moments where a classic fusion group like John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra springs to mind. No greater example exists on the album than the six and a half minute instrumental, "Suspicious Waveforms", where each instrumentalist in the septet is given their own opportunity to solo, all while the rest of rhythm section complements with a set-progression as close-knit as a shadow. Lengthy solo sections are given to the trumpet, saxophone, violin, and guitar, which all act as thread linking the dual saxophone/trumpet refrain. Not only is it impressive, it actually makes sense.
The other non-instrumental tracks don't quite take a page straight out of the jazz-handbook, but the fusion influence is always palpable. "Blood On the Radio", the longest and perhaps best track on the album at nearly nine-and-a-half minutes long, is a melting pot of musical culture, extrapolating influences from salsa, middle-eastern, and reggae music. Even the less instrumentally audacious compositions, such as the bookends "A Salesman's Guide to Nonexistence" and "My Famed Disappearing Act" are effective on the strength of massive vocal hooks.
I'm not sure I could postulate a band that so wonderfully marries the dichotomy of jazz and pop music as Thank You Scientist have presented here if I channeled all of my effort into it. Any flaws I have to exploit are quite minor; in a few places, the horns don't quite gel with the rest of the band (such as the intro of "A Salesman's Guide to Nonexistence"). Lead vocalist Salvatore Marrano's delivery is also almost certainly an acquired taste, with a timbre that lies somewhere between Claudio Sanchez and Michael Jackson. That being said, if you can stomach the style, "Maps of Non-Existent Places" is California in 1849, and I can't wait to see what Thank You Scientist do next.