Album review: LEON ALVARADO – Future Left Behind

LEON ALVARADO – Future Left Behind

Melodic Revolution [Release date 30.07.16]

Based on an original short story by multi instrumentalist keyboard player Leon Alvarado, ‘Future Left Behind’ is a prog rock instrumental concept album that is a triumph of innovation and musical substance over recycled ideas and clichés.

This is a well thought out album that cleverly draws the listener in through a succinct baritone narration by Steve Thamer, while the subtle enveloping sounds are overseen by former Pink Floyd engineer Andy Jackson.

Like all the best prog rock concepts, it slowly reveals itself with more plays. Initially it seems to be several thinly linked short instrumental pieces, but it grows in stature through the sci-fi narrative and some weighty prog rock.

The one thing it lacks though, is an effective denouement, as Alvarado bookends the album with the relatively lightweight ‘The Star Seekers’, a reference to the remaining people on earth who carry hope for the future. The piece builds magisterially but ends perfunctorily, leaving us with a thematically unresolved ending. Perhaps he’s got a follow up in the pipeline?

The album is apparently inspired by guest keyboard player Rick Wakeman’s ‘Journey To The Centre of the Earth’, while Leon Alvarado’s aim is to create musical imagery strong enough to bring substance to the narrative, while showcasing his ability to transform the mood and ambience of a piece through his instrumental ability.

He does so on the sythn and organ led ‘Journey Into Space’, a wall of sound over which guitarist Billy Sherwood soars with a sinewy guitar solo.

Musically, the album opens with the spacy ambience and voice collage of ‘Launch Overture’. It slips into a stuttering, metal style guitar and bagpipe sound that tops and tails some expansive layered keyboard work, including moog from Rick Wakeman.

The song titles alone spin a linear narrative, while the self explanatory

‘The Ones Left Behind,’ refers to a body of people who are given musical expression as “the true star seekers”. The narrator tells us they are left behind to try and patch up a planet in the throws of environmental destruction.

There’s a clever duality to the Sci-Fi story which tells us that the people who fill the spaceships to the 16 outer colonies and benefit from advanced technology, don’t enjoy the same liberty and freedom as those left behind. Significantly we also learn that it is those left behind without the benefit of high-tech and luxuries who are the optimistic dreamers, hence the conceptual duality of ‘Future Left Behind’.

The synth-driven ‘Among The Stars’, is arguably the best track on the album, as it subtly builds to evoke the song’s title.

The persistent percussion helps shape a piece of enveloping space-rock, before a quiet drop-down and synth stabs with more prominent percussion fills the track with the salient audio imagery.

There’s a lovely moment when the keyboards and guitar magically interweave, but then suddenly finish all too soon.

The following narrative link to ‘Much Ado About’ draws our attention to: “the need to be loved” and “the luxury to dream” in this high-tech environment. The narrator then extends the dichotomous tale further. He incorporates the nuances of love and emotion, both of which are cleverly evoked by Alvarado’s weighty keyboard progression and some Zapparesque vibes on the symphonic arrangement of ‘In Our Quiet Orbit’.  He matches the layered feel with a choral accompaniment, before the gentlest of fades.

‘To Be Loved’ is another intricate arrangement with dynamic contrast, in this case a beautiful worked acoustic passage by Johnny Bruhns, which brings a sense of peace and resolution.

‘Future Left Behind’ overcomes several obstacles, from the outmoded notion of a concept album itself, to the synth led exploration of sci-fi space travel, the attendant quasi philosophical observations and even a questionable album cover.

The confident ensemble playing illuminates Alvarado’s compositional structures, while the perceptive narrative draws the listener into a concept album that transforms the retro into the contemporary.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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