Over the past few years, Chicago quartet The Cyberiam—lead vocalist/guitarist Keith Semple, vocalist/bassist Brian Kovacs, keyboardist/vocalist Frank Lucas, and drummer/vocalist Tommy Murray—have become one of the most talked-about newcomers on the prog rock scene. It’s no wonder why, either, as they draw inspiration from icons like Tool, Marillion, Pink Floyd, and Spock’s Beard amidst continuously astounding listeners with their distinctive studio work and live presence.
Unsurprisingly, they’ve outdone themselves once again on their full-length sophomore outing, Connected. Building upon everything that made 2018’s self-titled debut LP—and 2019’s The Butterfly Effect EP—so extraordinary, Connected is a thematically poignant and musically powerful ride that’s quite ambitious yet ceaselessly accessible and charming. As such, it ranks not only as The Cyberiam’s best work to date but also as one of 2021’s best albums thus far.
According to the press release, it was written over “a two-year span and recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic and Sempleton Studios and Summer Home Studios.” As with all of its forebearers, the collection was mixed by Semple and mastered by Andy VanDette (Porcupine Tree, The Dear Hunter, Rush), with Kovacs doing the artwork once again.
As for the inspirations and messages behind Connected, the band explains: “The loudest lesson that we’ve learned over the last year and a half is the importance of human connection. We all want to be connected. . . . This album talks about connection, feeling disconnected, connecting the dots, and our connection to you.” Indeed, the sequence is sobering yet uplifting, calming yet chaotic, and intricate yet welcoming, making it a glorious display of The Cyberiam’s multifaceted aptitude.
Lengthy opener “Interrogation Room B” alone showcases the quartet’s ability to meld gripping songwriting with malleable arrangements that serve, rather than overshadow, the mood and sentiments they’re prioritizing. In a nutshell, it strikes a perfect equilibrium between engaging folk-rock solemnity, iridescent pop-rock exuberance, and stunning prog rock flights of fancy. As usual, Semple and company deliver extremely catchy melodies with a fine fusion of delicate modesty and booming charisma; meanwhile, each instrument complements the others without ever feeling unnecessarily dominant or awkward. Of course, each one also gets at least a moment or two to shine, but it’s clear that even at its most complex and aggressive, “Interrogation Room B” never forgoes substance for superficial showiness.
From there, the remaining eight tracks essentially devote more attention to different aspects of that remarkable hodgepodge. Specifically, “The Moral Landscape” clearly owes a debt to the playful gruffness of early Dream Theater, yet it mixes that influence with vocal templates all their own. In contrast, “Sunset on Mars” is – as the name suggests – significantly cosmic, emotional, and hooky, whereas “Be Connected” is a heartwarming ballad led by piano, acoustic guitar, synths, tight rhythms, and empowering harmonies. The penultimate “Miles Away” is deeply psychedelic and engrossingly irregular thanks to its perpetual changes in percussion and vibe. Luckily, closer “Bigger Questions” concludes the journey with a healthy dose of Rush-esque flamboyance and vigor that feels profound and exploratory but also relentlessly focused. It’s damn near impossible not to feel moved and motivated as its cathartic outro fades away.
Connected is a stellar accomplishment from start to finish. More fluid, meaningful, and confident than its predecessors—which were also superb, don’t get me wrong—it finds The Cyberiam honing their skills in every way to prove once and for all that they’re a force to be reckoned with in the genre. In fact, the LP is more rewarding and endearing than the latest work by many of the quartet’s most legendary stylistic siblings. It’s truly outstanding.