Ben Levin Group
Pulse of a Nation

After a period of laborious research (read: browsing the web while the coffee kettle boiled), I was surprised to learn that very little has been written about the Ben Levin Group. Although their album ‘Pulse of a Nation’ is nearing its second birthday, I could only find a handful of reviews written for their album, and none of them by the ‘big media’. Bottom line, no one seems to have picked up on this group from the Berklee School of Music, and considering this band’s talent and potential, that is something of a crime. I would normally refrain from saying such things about bands and albums I’ve only started listening to, but Ben Levin and his company make prog rock sound fresh again.

The Mars Volta may be a good place to start when comparing and describing the Ben Levin Group. Both bands have a cast of incredibly skilled members, and both mix a jazz fusion sound with hard rock and intense psychedelia. Deliberating further; the Ben Levin Group make generous use of the violin to give their sound a dreamlike, classical charm, not unlike their fellow Berklee alumni in Kayo Dot. From their declaration of a forty-minute epic alone, there is no doubt that the band are taken ambition to heart with their work. ‘Pulse of a Nation’ is offered both as a single track, and as an album broken up into ‘sections’. It may better suit the purposes of this music to take it as one whole and nothing else; not a minute here consolidates into ‘conventional songwriting’. Something that the psychedelic and jazz fusion influences of the band have in common is that they tend to prefer drawn out segments, and ‘Pulse of a Nation’ is full of these, although they are kept fresh and exciting with a spinning wheel of weird, delightful sounds. Ben Levin’s Zappa-esque guitar explorations are not without melody however, and this is what makes the music here brilliant. It is constant and unerring with its regard to experimentation and unorthodoxy, yet truly memorable melodies are worked into the music.

From the skyward noise experimentation of what’s referred to in the multi-track version as ‘Pulse’, to the Opeth-like cool down in ‘Sleep’, there’s a great deal of dynamic and variety thrown in. By all means, the Ben Levin Group should sound like they are forcing beautiful things together into something horrible and corrupt, sort of like if you were to cook peanut butter chocolate on top of a pepperoni pizza and then call it an album. Somehow though, the Ben Levin Group not only make ‘Pulse of a Nation’ work, but make it one of the most impressive underground gems prog has seen in recent years. A group of maniacally skilled musicians can always get together in a room and make something ‘weird’, but it takes more to make something like ‘Pulse of a Nation’.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Conor Fynes
May 7th, 2012

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