Brontosaurus – Our Animal Ways


Brontosaurus – Our Animal Ways

Our Animal Ways is the second album from the Chicago-based duo of Nicholas Kelley and Nicholas Papaleo, augmented by the appearance of Josh Miller to assist in their highly developed and intricate music. Brontosaurus actually means ‘thunder lizard’ and the duo/trio bring a veritable storm of performances over the album’s eight tracks, which while occasionally overreaching in hyperbolical ambition provide about as dextrous a present day take on prog-rock as I’ve heard for a while.

You might need to hark back to the 1970s to trace the ideas drawn from tax exile supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer, whose influence has perhaps faded unjustly in the intervening four decades since their Tarkus heyday. Yet that is only one of several strands of inspiration within the music of Brontosaurus, the others are perhaps Led Zeppelin, King Crimson and – when the keyboards begin to swirl – Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Quite a lot of musicality for a duo to attempt, you may think, and I’d check out their live show just to discover exactly how the anthemic and verging-upon-orchestral crescendos that characterise the music of Brontosaurus are translated to the live stage. As they don’t seem to have much in the way of gigs lined up, sit back and appreciate a very well played and produced rock album that could find a large and appreciative audience.

Doubtlessly, Brontosaurus will have their detractors, with the 70s influences a touch overbearing at times and the vocals not always matching the depth of the music, but there’s much to enjoy about Our Animal Ways with how Kelley and Papaleo have stretched their abilities to the utmost to make their second album. Indeed, first track “D Minor Threat” could have stepped directly from the soundtrack of a forty year old ‘in concert’ filmed performance (the Yes concert film Yessongs, for instance), invoking as it does images of multiple keyboard banks, gigantic amp stacks, twin-necked guitars and oil filter light shows, plus a drum kit sprawled across the length of the stage. The song is hardly a nostalgia fest though, as Brontosaurus keep the track from lurching into the overlong self-indulgence that so many of those 70s supergroups found themselves accused of. Third track “Safe To Surface” is probably closer to the sound you’ll hear at their live show with a notable piano/synth performance that although compositionally less spectacular than its predecessors is a display of some highly-practised musicianship.

Some tightly-phrased guitar opens fifth track “D Minor Mission”, which somewhere resembles Warren Zevon covering “Stairway To Heaven” and it’s to Brontosaurus’s credit that they bring this off with no small element of skill. Electronic atmospherics and crashing drums introduce sixth track “Dry Run”, which begins as a ballad of sorts before taking a detour into instrumental pyrotechnics and around here it occurred to me that the one thing I hadn’t heard from Brontosaurus yet is a proper guitar solo. Our Animal Ways is very much a keyboard-based album, and while the electro-acoustic guitar that has a role in much of the album is a definite presence, one or two guitar solos would have fitted in well with the rest of the music. Perhaps Brontosaurus would consider that would undermine their sound in some way and as the keyboard and vocal turn choral I could appreciate that fretboard explosions might detract from the overall band sound. Lastly, “Foundation Shake” is Mercury Rev if they had been a mainstream FM operation, as Brontosaurus end the album with a flourish of techno-influenced sound that hints at almost being a very different sort of band. It’s a downplayed coda to the deeply impressive forty or so minutes that precede it.

Brontosaurus are probably aware that their music won’t find favour with everyone that hears it, but it would be a very narrow-minded critic that would find a lot of fault with Our Animal Ways. The musicianship is developed and sounds authentically inspired, the songs aren’t merely a series of reinterpretations of what are nowadays obscure album tracks by Wishbone Ash and Uriah Heep and those of you unfamiliar with where Brontosaurus are deriving their sound from might find them bewilderingly contrived, but the Chicago twosome/threesome deserve a lot of applause for realising their music so spectacularly. If Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire (both of Yes) and Carl Palmer (ELP’s drummer) had formed a group in 1975, the resultant album would have sounded a lot like Our Animal Ways, and I can praise Brontosaurus no higher than that.

Official band site