English composer Frederick Delius famously remarked that “music is an outburst of the soul,” and if there’s one emerging band that exudes this sentiment, it’s Nashville-based trio Lines In The Sky. Formed several years ago by brothers Jesse and Bowman Brock (vocals/guitar and percussion, respectively) and currently completed by bassist Ben McAnelly, Lines In The Sky’s prior two LPs—2014’s Hilasterion and 2016’s Parallel Travel (both of which were mixed by Grammy-winner Tim Palmer)—demonstrated an exceptional blend of progressive rock technicality, alternative rock attitude, pop/rock magnetism, and ambient introspection. As such, their masterful merging of heartfelt harmonies, tight yet adventurous instrumentation, and poignant lyricism pinpointed an act whose ambition and focus matched their vigorous songwriting and arrangement skills.
Looking back now, however, those albums also serve as the satiating appetizers for the main course that is Beacon, the group’s strongest record yet. By maintaining everything that makes their formula work while simultaneously emphasizing a stronger sense of cohesion, focus, and dynamic equity (between chaotic and calm movements), Lines In The Sky has created something truly superlative. Like the works of stylistic siblings Coheed and Cambria, Closure in Moscow, In the Presence of Wolves, Circa Survive, and The Mars Volta, Beacon combines flamboyant frenzy with invigorating and earnest accessibility to yield not only the band’s finest outing thus far, but also a testament to how striving, hypnotic, and ultimately rewarding rock music can be when you have players like these behind it.
In fact, Beacon reveals its evolutions from the get-go, as opener “Not About You” explodes with some of Lines In The Sky’s most elaborate and entrancing guitar riffs to date. Behind them, Bowman and McAnelly (both of whom are classically trained musicians) provide sophisticated yet subtle rhythms while Jesse’s singing soars with trademark wounded smoothness. As always, his melodies and lyrics provide a relatable and fetching juxtaposition to the instrumental intricacies beneath them; in particular, the chorus (“I don’t understand / Why you think we can / Go about this love / Without the stops and starts / We’re not in the clear / Till this disappears / Gotta work for what we wanted / Gotta burn what we don’t need”) expresses the universality of romantic hardships with irresistibly impassioned catchiness. Naturally, they also throw in a virtuosic breakdown near the end of the track that, coupled with its perpetual hooks, makes “Not About You”—like all of Beacon—a must-hear sequence for fans of welcoming songwriting and wild scores alike (not that they’re mutually exclusive, of course!)
As the collection continues, the trio ceaselessly illustrates why Beacon is their most multifaceted and focused effort ever. Whether it’s the progressive metal meltdowns (that evoke Haken, Periphery, and Riverside) in-between the poppy angst of “A Great Deal,” “Ancient Insult,” and “Beacon,” the heavenly harmonies and luscious lightness that permeate “Teeth” and [especially] “Library,” the infectiously disorienting syncopation of “Judith” (in which McAnelly and Bowman perform with the magic of a shared mind), or the beautiful serenity of closing piano ballad “The Crawl,” Lines In The Sky ensure that every moment of Beacon is a tour-de-force of artistic advancements and audience-pleasing splendor.
That said, the group isn’t shy about admitting which selections stand out most for them. For example, McAnelly loves how the “sense of melody and arrangement come together beautifully” in “Library” (which contains Jesse’s “lyrical retelling of the union between the characters of The Librarian and The Didact” from the Halo video game series). Bowman concurs while also expressing how “Judith” is “fun to play and different from every other LITS song” because it draws from “a ton of unusual sources.” As for Jesse, he picks “Teeth” because of its groove and Peter Gabriel vibe (the opening was even modeled after “The Rhythm of the Heat”), as well as the title track because it’s “a rollercoaster of a song.” Remarkably, he adds that both pieces are “about two characters in the same story. They’re engaged in a conflict of passions and concessions. It’s fun to think of them as one element.”
Speaking of “Teeth,” it was recently chosen as the initial single from the LP, which, as you’d expect, was a tough decision to make: “This album isn’t the longest full-length we’ve done, so we wanted to be really strategic about what to put out first. ‘Teeth’ ended up being the most logical decision because it touches all of the bases for our previous work while also hinting at some of the new directions,” they declare.
Although Beacon conveys similar themes as its predecessors (such as the heaviness of “relationships, monetary strains, and life decisions”), it still shows “more maturity” in terms of its structures and lyrics. They clarify: “We were able to really hone in on some very precise ideas instead of using broad strokes to generalize an emotion or an experience. Musically, we are much more diverse than we used to be.” Whereas Jesse served as the “primary songwriter who’d come up with most of the parts” on Hilasterion and “a majority” of Parallel Travel, Beacon was “very collaborative,” with Bowman and McAnelly helping the configurations and “narrowing the scope of what Jesse was trying to accomplish.” In other words, they’ve “established a great writing environment that incorporates everyone’s ideas equally.”
Whereas many artists are hesitant to discuss overt stimuli and similarities, Lines In The Sky are wholly transparent about acknowledging their forbearers. Explicitly, they cite Coheed and Cambria, Peter Gabriel, and Sting as being “hugely influential on all of our work . . . especially regarding vocals and arrangements.” Beyond that, McAnelly channels his “deep love for jazz” throughout the disc, Bowman tips his hat to Pat Metheny and Chick Corea, and Jesse recognizes the “super tight” marvels of The Contortionist (as well as The Weeknd, whose “unparalleled pop creativity” and “brutal honesty” have been impacting their music “for some time”). Clearly, Lines In The Sky find comfort and inevitability in being compared to others; as they put it, “It’s kind of flattering, really. After all, you’re being self-defeating if you say that you’re completely different from anyone else. You’re always building on the ideas of the people before you. It’s not a bad thing, but you should strive to push the envelope and put your own spin on things.” With Beacon, Lines In The Sky do precisely that.
Above all else, Lines In The Sky wants Beacon to be “a fun listening experience” that blends “the essence of traditional/old prog with newer, more contemporary ideas” while maintaining “a cohesion in how every song is part of a singular work.” From its initial bursts of electric anarchy to its closing passage of ebony and ivory tranquility, this third studio effort nails all of those attributes and more, making it a triumphant statement in every way. As its name suggests, Beacon shines not only as the trio’s greatest achievement to date, but as a glorious entry into the genre as a whole. Check it out for yourself and see why there’s a great deal indeed to love about Lines In The Sky.
You can pre-order Beacon via iTunes here: http://itunes.apple.com/album/id1273029046?ls=1&app=itunes
--written by Jordan Blum
Founder/Editor-in-Chief, The Bookends Review
Contributor to: PopMatters, Rebel Noise, Classic Rock Society, Progression, The Big Takeover, PROG, The Prog Report, Metal Injection, and Paste.
Lines In the Sky's second full-length album, produced by LITS themselves and mixed by Grammy-winner Tim Palmer (Pearl Jam, U2, Blue October, et al.) released in April of 2016.
Already receiving national press premieres, the album shows a sonic and commercial growth of this still-young band of superb rock musicians. Lines In the Sky is young Nashville's fresh sonic reply to alternative rock with substance and an ambient, progressive flavor. LITS presents a totally unique blend of sound and style, appealing to fans that respond to LITS’s gorgeous soaring vocals, power polyrhythmics, TV/radio/film-friendly songwriting, and inarguable monster chops from 3 young guys barely old enough to get into clubs.
The band features prodigy brothers Jesse Brock, frontman on vocals and guitar, and Bowman Brock, drums and percussion, and their friend Ben McAnelly as the band’s ruthless bassist.