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3RDegree - Narrow-Caster CD (album) cover

NARROW-CASTER

3RDegree

Crossover Prog


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4 stars Progressive Rock, or Prog Rock. This often-misused term conjures up images of Roger Dean album covers, 20-minute songs & obtuse concepts.

In the heyday of Prog Rock, the term was genuine in that the music was indeed breaking the mold of the 3-minute AM radio pop ditty. In England especially, bands like Yes, Jethro Tull & Genesis took Sgt. Pepper's a step further, making odd arrangements & layered instrumentation the standard.

Due to the proliferation of album-oriented FM radio, more bands adopted the genre, diluting it to the point of banality. Suddenly, progressive was no longer such. Even the above mentioned innovators were labeled stale & old before they simplified their sound, eschewing the embellishments that made them famous.

So, what is Prog Rock now? Some say it's bands like Dream Theater, or Symphony X, but I disagree. These bands owe more to the past sounds of Yngwie Malmsteen, Iron Maiden & Kansas then they do to unexplored territory. Sure, DT especially has obstinately barraged their own indelible fault in the alt/pop music landscape & they deserve all credit for remaining self-true, but progressive, they are not (and they'd be the first to agree).

On an entirely different (and decidedly less spirited) level is the prog of European projects (they're not bands as many of them don't even gig). That lot is content to scientifically gas up ancient ELP arrangements featuring schooled, correct- loving technicians serving up sterile, contrived, bombastic drivel; this is regressive, not progressive. Now, take New Jersey-based 3RDegree, who have just released Narrow-Caster after a 12-yr hiatus. Following their locally successful 1996 album Human Interest Story, which synthesized elements of pop/rock with offbeat sonic elements & time signatures, 3RDegree found it tough to forge a fan base in an area rife with cover bands, and by the following year, they had split.

However, 3RDegree reunited in late 2005, began recording in 2006 and played a few gigs in Spring 2007 to see if they could still cut it (they could). Narrow-Caster firmly pronounces them back.

Still consisting of Robert James Pashman (bass/keys/vocals), Pat Kliesch (guitars/vocals), Rob Durham (drums), and George Dobbs (vocals/keys), 3RDegree is first and foremost a band that writes songs, not instrumentalists who record songs as space to solo in. This is important since the band has become popular and continues to market in prog circles, which include those who define prog in different terms than I do.

With one foot rooted in self-parody ("narrowcast" being the opposite of "broadcast," which, let's face it, independent artists such as 3RDegree are forced to embrace), Narrow-Caster is being marketed as "power prog pop." Based firmly in the old model of 10 songs of approximately 4-5 minutes each, the album, while not so much pop, could be one of the more progressive I've heard in a while.

Primary writer Pashman (the only composer credited on all but one song) is adept at penning tight sounding songs that are outside of the standard "Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus" structure. Because he employs atypical chords and cadences in addition to some complex melody, the listener never really misses this structure. Pashman's compositional skills have progressed since 1996, so the progressive nature of 3RDegree 2008 is more organic, born in the songwriting as opposed to the meter (further developed since Human Interest Story).

Not that odd meter isn't present on Narrow-Caster. The driving 12/8 of Apophenia is cool; the alternating 7/8 & 4/4 feel of It Works is sly. Drummer Durham is proficient at weaving in and out of these to the point where they are unnoticeable, which I've always thought was immanently cooler than stringing 4 of them together and never approaching a groove. Importantly, Durham can hold down that groove when needed, as in the atmospheric Scenery.

Guitarist Kliesch punctuates more than he flat-out riffs, ala Mike Rutherford or Andy Summers (though on The Proverbial Banana Peel & the Soundgarden-esque Free For All, he lets the monster out). A technical but tasteful player, his guitar lines jab then duck out of sight, only to re-assault from another angle, as in the stabbing "and" beats of the coda on It Works, and the Belew-esque solo on the title track.

Pashmans bass & the keyboards of he & Dobbs form the basis from which most 3RDegree songs are built on Narrow- Caster. Pashmans bass harmonics kick off the album with Apophenia, featuring a groove that both rocks & swings. Again, he locks in with Durham in a free flowing 6 feel for Cautionary Tale. His bass playing is intricate, melodic & solid.

The keys on Narrow-Caster are a combination of vintage sounds & fresh ones, with Dobbs' cool clavinet & Steinway grooving through It Works, & his Hammond pumping on Live With This Forever. Pashmans loops on The Proverbial Banana Peel are very current, while his swirling synth bass during the verses on the title track is suitably bizarre (just one example of the many subtle, colorful nuances on this album). The eclectic Dobbs is in fine form as the voice of 3RDegree. A gruff sounding tenor with a nasty R&B growl at times, Dobbs takes 3RDegree over the top. So many semi-pro bands are killed by sub-par, amateur-sounding vocalists- especially some "prog" bands who opt for wailing, Geoff Tate/James LaBrie imitators who do justice to neither. None such here.

Tonally and in phrasing, Dobbs has a Joseph Williams-era Toto vibe (which I always thought was Michael Jackson- influenced). Check out the chorus line in Apophenia: "Predisposed as you are to delusions of conspiracy." Dobbs dives & dips through some complex yet accessible melodies with acumen, and his razor edge is a nice counterbalance to the smoothly arranged harmonies his lead lines both meet & split off from. I hear Williams & The Gloved One, rocking as he did on Smooth Criminal. Pretty cool company.

Lyrically, Narrow-Caster is predominantly a commentary on the state-of-things: it questions, it criticizes, it stings, it pokes fun, and it forces thought. Sometimes, it turns to the ugliness of actual headlines; from Free For All: "...police that act like they're above the law/body bags for trigger happy hands for hire"; from Cautionary Tale: "Burning crosses/falling towers/brought to you by those who were so certain that they'd go to heaven".

The themes on Narrow-Caster are clear: paranoia on Apophenia ("Play connect-the-dots with events that are blowing your mind,"); admonition on It Works ("I want to say that things are gonna change/don't think it won't go away/to something even worse,"); consequences on Live With This Forever ("This ain't something you can shower off, or confess to a god to feel better about"); voyeuristic pleasures on The Proverbial Banana Peel ("The low road that we choose/we sure do get a thrill when someone's joy is killed,"); technological payback on the title track ("I'm skipping your commercials, and I don't care what you're saying...I have so little time").

Amidst all of the stinging commentary of the modern world are some introspective pieces-particularly Pashman's largely personal Young Once: "You already picked your path...but you forgot to do the things you said were the things you loved to do way back when." Any musician or artist who has chosen the security of a paying job over the risk of braving powdered mac & cheese dinners for the sake of their craft can sadly relate.

All praise aside, take the title literally: Narrow-Caster is not for everyone. There's no Owner Of A Lonely Heart here that will lift this collection much beyond its core fan base. There aren't a lot of the catchy, sing-able hooks inherent in pop music, rendering the "pop" in the marketing moniker somewhat dubious (the press release does indicate that this is the more progressive collection of tunes, to be possibly followed up by a more "pop"-oriented album). It's heady stuff that gets dark at times, and many of the musical structures may be lost on the average listener. Like many deeper dives, it takes time to settle in.

That said, 3RDegree knows when to come up for air, and Narrow-Caster never bogs down or takes itself too seriously, either. It's timely, progressive, literate, and has a lot of integrity. The more I listen, the more I like it. Most importantly, while listening to Narrow-Caster, I had to constantly remind myself that these guys actually do have day jobs.

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Send comments to bigwedge (BETA) | Report this review (#183324)
Posted Tuesday, September 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars 12 years of patience and maturity put to good use.

3RDegree is a fairly new find to most of us proggers who didn't live in the New Jersey area in the mid-90s, but they've already been once around the block before this release. This is actually the band's third official album, and a bigger number than that for the members who completed solo projects over the years. But it seems that taking a break from 1997 until now is just what the band needed to complete an excellent, thematic and very mature album that will no doubt appeal to proggers far and wide. While the band resides in song-based material that always stays modestly concise they're still impressive on a number of levels, from composition to melody and mood. They definitely have a sound that's hard to compare to other acts since they have a touch of influence from the early 90s grunge bands, the 80s new wave music and a healthy dose of classic prog, but it all purees together nicely to make for a great listen that demands spin after spin.

While the songs work together on the whole to create a running tone and theme, they certainly are impressive on their own, something many prog bands struggle to pull off. Take for example the calm and reflective It Works, a mid-paced song that develops through moods and speeds with some serene vocal parts from George Dobbs and some very pleasing piano melodies. Other songs that induce a kind of nirvana-head-rush include the somewhat ''non-prog'' (but who cares) title track, Narrow-Caster which includes some of the best lyrics to describe the current state of the world, (''this is indeed my world/and you're just living in it'') and some more incredibly airy yet demanding melodies that make you want the song to last longer than its 3-minute duration, but still make you not miss it too much when it's over. More on the 'proggy' side of things is the excellent Young Once which goes through a plethora of moods before ascending into keyboard heaven with a 2 and a half minute ambient section reminiscent of Jean-Michel Jarre. This helps things segue nicely into the next piece, which also happens to be the longest on the album. Scenery is an excellent track that encompasses everything the band has done well to this point and simply exaggerates it.

Of course while a big part of the album's wonder has foundation in the moody and serene aspects, it just wouldn't be the same without that grungy influence that makes some of the songs into excellent - and unique - powerhouses that will rock you to your core. The opening Apophenia is just like that, excellent vocal work once again is backed by a band obviously fired up to make a comeback. This one is defined by a hard guitar from Pat Kliesch which will show itself in much more than one place on the album, and rightly so. Free For All is another hard hitter which has apparently become a staple track for the boys, and it shows in the amount of energy put into it. The shortest song on the album is also the heaviest, The Proverbial Banana Peel is a great tongue-in-cheek track that includes some almost growling backing vocals layered overtop of all the other vocals which makes for a noticeable section. Live With This Forever maintains dark tones overtop of a subtle, yet mean bassline coming from Robert Pashman, the vocal harmonies on the chorus section are very pleasing to say the least. Cautionary Tale has the band about to sound like The Mars Volta before adding their trademark control into their songs. This one is another darker tune with subtle instrumentation this time dominated by the drumming styles of Rob Durham before coming into a once again harmonized chorus section. Another nice combination of dark and serene. The Last Gasp is another dark and somewhat chilling song before becoming once again very pleasing in sound with a memorable chorus that rings in your head long after the song is over.

Clocking at 46-minutes this album is also the ideal time. While previous albums showed the band trying to make the most out of cd-space, this one shows them trying to construct the best-of-the-best of their material into a concise format that will leave you salivating for more, and it does just that. Don't be surprised if by the end of The Last Gasp you just want to start the whole thing over again. This disc does not have a single weak point, although it does have many standouts throughout the album, and by cutting off any 'excess fat' they really have created a memorable bunch of tunes.

This really is the start of something beautiful. While the band has been around for a good long time already there's no doubt they've finally found their sound and a way to get it out to the people. An impressive album that shows promise for a killer follow-up, this one is going to get a solid 4-stars out of 5. Highly recommended, this may be just the cure for people looking for unique progressive music that is a nice blend of old and new without ever becoming too 'retro'.

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Send comments to Queen By-Tor (BETA) | Report this review (#193212)
Posted Sunday, December 14, 2008 | Review Permalink
Ivan_Melgar_M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Prog Specialist
4 stars Normally is hard to trust a review, because in most cases the critic gives a high rating to an album he likes and a low one to an album he dislikes, doesn't matter the quality, musicianship, skills and composition, most of the times the only parameter a critic considers is his taste, so that's why I have some problem taking many critics too seriously.

But if an amateur reviewer with no particular interest in the band tells you that the album doesn't have the music he normally likes but still gives a high rating, believe him.

In my case I have to be honest Narrow-Caster by 3RDEGREE was not my cup of tea, not even the album I would had bought in a store before listening carefully, but to say it's bad would be a lie, the album is very good, the musicians are surely capable, the composition is impeccable, the blend of styles is done with class and skills, the fact that is not the pompous and melodic music I love, must not cloud my vision, at the end the taste is personal but the quality is universal and Narrow- Caster has quality.

The album begins with Apophenia a track extremely complex from the start, the dissonant introduction is a brilliant example of complex Progressive Rock, my only problem is with the vocals that remind me a bit of Michael Jackson and never liked his voice or music. There's also some obvious YES influence in the track, even when more complex than most of their albums, it's interesting to listen the POP elements blended so perfectly with the extremely complex Prog ones, an excellent work.

It Works has an outstanding Jazzy introduction and again it's interesting to notice how progressively it turns from an elaborate form of fusion to solid Rock, but done gradually so the shock is not too strong. A special mention for the psyche oriented organ, simply brilliant.......As the title of the song, it works.

Narrow-Caster explores the poppier side of 3RDEGREE'S music. flows gently and soft with almost no surprises, but still is pleasant enough for the average listener and sufficiently elaborate for the most demanding audience. Not my cup of tea, but well written and performed.

In Live with this Forever I can listen again that splendid Psyche organ that I like so much, but sadly the vocals turn me off, but when I'm starting to get disappointed, the fantastic instrumental sections give me hope and don't allow me to stop admiring the music. The contrast of styles is simply impressive, and in some moment it gets as pompous and brilliant as you can expect from the best known Prog icon.

Cautionary Tale is a strange mix of BRAND X and EARTH WIND & FIRE, the typical Motown vocal parts contrast with the elaborate, hard and technical instrumentation, I just get more and more impressed with each track, this band has caught the best of two different worlds, even when I love the technical Jazz and dislike most Motown can't deny the work done combining both styles is very good.

The Proverbial Banana Peel has a harder edge from the start, something I like much more, the guitar - keyboard interplay is excellent and the radical changes are more than interesting, the album keeps getting better as he songs pass. At last the vocal work gets closer to what I like, more aggressive and strong, my favorite song at this point.

Young Once begins with a reminiscent PINK FLOYD touch but suddenly changes, if there's something we must learn with his album is to expect the unexpected, in this case they jumped from FLOYD to QUEEN reminiscent brilliantly, and them again to a classical USA Hard Rock style.

What will come next? Honestly I don't know, but I'm willing to investigate.

Scenery presents us a new change, 3RDEGREE has also an acoustic and melodic side and I like it, again reminds me of QUEEN, specially in the vocals which keep sounding better, don't know if there's an improvement or it's just that I got used, but now I like what I hear.

Free for All is absolutely weird and mind blowing, the blend of POP, Hard Rock, Motown Jazzy and even Post Rock elements is mind blowing, a musician really needs skills to blend all of this and still manage to make it sound natural. BTW: The vocals rock in this track.

The album is closed with The Last Gasp another strange song that is time I can't describe or catalogue, there so many things happening on this track that words are not enough.

Still when the album combines things that I like with some I'm not too fond on, all are so well blended that any doubt I had after the first listens has vanished.

Excellent band and very strong album that deserves 4 stars because the quality shines beyond personal tastes. I'm impatient to listen Human Interest Story.

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Send comments to Ivan_Melgar_M (BETA) | Report this review (#194520)
Posted Saturday, December 20, 2008 | Review Permalink
Windhawk
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This third release by US act 3rdegree is an interesting one.

Musically we're in the heartland of what was once coined art rock; with strong leanings towards the art pop division. The overall song structure is one of chorus and verse, with some atmospheric insertions now and then, melodies and moods are given the limelight while the guitar in particular is mixed down in the overall soundscape.

Emotional and at times quite melodramatic vocal delivery is a key feature, and flowing and at times quirky segments with backing vocals intermixed with lead vocals is a common feature throughout.

In many ways this one reminds me of US act Man On Fire, and their third release Habitat in particular. The sound and mood are quite similar in many places; but where MOF spice their compositions with elements from pop music and Neo prog, 3rdegree have chosen to insert more adventurous elements in their compositions; dampened dissonances, elements from jazz, heavily distorted guitars way back in the mix...and generally with a stronger leaning towards avant-garde elements; but carefully used and most times placed back in the mix as nuances and textures rather than dominant effects taking over the parts where these effects are utilized.

A strong release overall, well worth checking out if Art Pop of the more adventurous sort sounds like a good thing.

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Send comments to Windhawk (BETA) | Report this review (#194560)
Posted Sunday, December 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
JLocke
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars NARROW-CASTER is a good album. But is it really 'Prog'?

This is something I have scratched my head over for the last couple of days as I listened to this album. What makes something progressive? Well, anyone who knows me fairly well should also know that I am very open when it comes to the definition of 'progressive'. I see progressive as anything that is beyond the norm. But how much of this album is truly made up of unorthadox songwriting? From what I'm hearing, 3rDegree has more in common with Maroon 5 than King Crimson.

That being said, it should be noted that NARROW-CASTER is a very good album, as I said, and anyone looking for an easy listening gem will be more than happy with it, but as a Progressive Rock record, it feels a little watered down.

Was that aspect of the record intentional? Perhaps, but if so, one must wonder what type of audience 3rDegree is really aiming for. As far as I can hear, based on this record at least, this band would be more then welcome in the same demographic that listens to Baranaked Ladies or REM. Nothing is wrong with this at all, butwith all the attention NARROW-CASTER has been getting from people on this site, I was expecting more Prog than Pop, and what I got was the exact opposite.

Not to worry, though. The good news is, the musicianship on this album is amazing, the production values rival anything that pro labels are churning out, and the music, while much more accessible than I was expecting, does sound very inspired and heartfelt. As long as a band plays truthful music that comes from their hearts, it can sound radio-friendly and I will still enjoy it.

Perhaps it is a bit unfair to these guys to judge them based only on this album, as I have not heard the first two yet (But I plan on investing in them soon), but from what I hear on this record, the progressive moments are few and far between. Though the outro to ''Young Once'' is still probably my favorite moment on the record and is undeniably progressive and weird. If more moments like this had been present on the albunm, I would have liked it even more, I'm sure.

I'm not trying to knock this album or 3rDegree themselves in any way, but I was seeing these glowing reviews and hearing all this wonderful hype about this record that I suppose I did something I rarely let myself get awy with: I got my hopes up. So, with pre-conceived notions on what type of record I thought NARROW-CASTER was going to be, I got my hopes up and ultimately was ever-so-slightly dissapointed with what I heard. I don't know, it just seemed like not that many risks were taken after all. No song went over six minutes in length, and it seemed like only a handful of the tracks even devianted from the traditional 'verse-chorus-verse-chorus' formula, and that is a real shame, because I can hear the talent within this record's confinements, and had they been a little more willing to deviate from the norm on more frequent occasions, it could have come to fruition more than I feel it did.

Then again, 4/4 time signatures, traditional song structures and easily-digestible melodies when combined with prog ends up becoming the very defenition of what the archives consider 'Crossover Prog' to be, so in that sense, no band has fit the bill for Crossover more snugly than 3rDegree.

I seem to be the first Collaborator to give this album anything less than a 4 rating, so perhaps everyone else is hearing something that I'm not. Ultimately, though, as with everything, this comes down to personal taste, and if you like the more experimental and unusual side of Prog, then NARROW- CASTER may not tickel your fancy as much, but there are still many magical moments on the record, and certainly I am glad that I have heard this band. I feel very fortunate to have it in my collection; it just isn't as 'prog' as I expected.

Three stars, and it's still an album worth listening to. Check it out.

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Send comments to JLocke (BETA) | Report this review (#197678)
Posted Wednesday, January 07, 2009 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars It's been a pleasure listening to this cd the last week or so. This album is like a glass of cold water on a hot day, yeah it's very refreshing. Lets see now, we've got these well crafted songs with intelligent, clever and at times humerous lyrics. We've got 4 guys who play their instruments very well, and a singer who ties it all together with his wide array of vocal styles.

"Apophenia" opens with this heavy soundscape that sounds fantastic as the rough vocals arrive. The chorus is a different story with the lighter sound and smooth vocals. The contrasts continue. Love the dreamy interlude 2 1/2 minutes in. It kicks back in a minute later. Passionate vocals end it. "It Works" is jazzy to start with light drums and piano melodies. Reserved vocals join in. The sound does get fuller and check out the bass and organ before 2 minutes. A catchy sound with backup vocals before 4 minutes is a nice touch. "Narrow-Caster" took me by surprise the first time I heard it.That word refreshing comes to mind.This is such an infectious track with this cool groove to it. I like the tone of the guitar solo 1 1/2 minutes in.This is a song that brightens my mood. "Live With This Forever" has some good bottom end to it and I like the organ runs as well. Vocals before a minute. Check out the snarly bass (hi Robert) after 2 1/2 minutes and I like the guitar before 3 1/2 minutes.

"Cautionary Tale" opens with a cool vocal arrangement before a good beat takes over. The vocals shine as usual but the rhythm section really grabs my attention on this one. Check out the drum work after 4 minutes to the end ! "The Proverbial Banana Peel" is a nasty tune where they get down and dirty. Heavy riffs come and go. I like when they slow it down after 2 1/2 minutes but the sludge continues. "Young Once" is one of my favourites both lyrically and musically. Vocals and strummed guitar to start before the sound gets fuller on the chorus.The guitar makes some noise before 2 1/2 minutes followed by a spacey calm. Time for reflection. "Scenery" is my least favourite although the song gets better as it plays out for me. "Free For All" opens with some mean bass lines before the drums and guitar join in. Vocals follow. The chorus is lighter. The vocals are really impressive during the heavy sections. "The Last Gasp" opens with fragile and theatrical vocals with a pulsating rhythm. The sound and the vocals both get fuller. The contrast continues. Some orchestral-like sounds before 3 minutes.

A solid 4 stars and thanks for the drink guys.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#197926)
Posted Thursday, January 08, 2009 | Review Permalink
E-Dub
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I'm always eager to hear new progressive music. Although 3rdegree have been around for quite some time, they're new to my ears. So, when given the opportunity to give their new album, Narrow Caster, I jumped at the chance.

As a whole, there's no denying that this band is wildly gifted. Blending different styles into a cohesive sound for the band cannot be an easy task, but they seem to pull it off. Songs like Apophenia and Free For All maintains an almost King Crimson-esque feel and groove, with growling vocals mixing with softer passages, changing time signatures and intricate drum sequences and fuzzy guitars. It Works to me sounds like something off Porcupine Tree's albums. Then the title track catches me off guard and to my ears sounds like 80's Alan Parsons.

A fellow collab begged the question if this was prog or not. To be perfectly honest, I'm conflicted with the same question. I'm not saying that every prog band requires an epic; however. it is nice to the ears of a progressive rock fan to have that 11-25/30 minute epic in there. Narrow Caster, although pleasant to the ears, seems to be missing a certain key ingredient for me. It's a nice rock album, but not sure if it's a nice progressive rock album. Yes, I've equated them to King Crimson, Alan Parsons and Porcupine Tree and maybe that's where it falls short with me. I'm not a King Crimson fan, nor an Alan Parsons fan. I do like Porcupine Tree, but I find them to be more alternative than progressive. Maybe that's where my problem lies.

To wrap this up, there's nothing to dislike about Narrow Caster. Nicely constructed songs with an edge and melody. It just would've been nice for some ingredients in the batter that makes my progressive pastry extra tasty and a feast for the senses.

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Send comments to E-Dub (BETA) | Report this review (#201214)
Posted Saturday, January 31, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Hello there, I recently ordered Narrow-Caster after long being a fan of 3rDegree, and their CD Human Interest Story in particular. I'll come clean and admit that I'm not a HUGE fan of prog rock in general. I tend towards somewhat eclectic stuff, but in the end I do like catchy melodies, and much prefer great singing to seemingly endless instrumental noodling. There are prog records I highly respect and admire, yet they don't make it off my cd shelf and into my player as often as perhaps they should. So I guess it made sense when I read some other reviews of this CD questioning whether it is sufficiently prog. To be sure, this CD focuses squarely on great songwriting, along with VERY strong vocals and musicianship. But if you're looking for epic songs with multiple movements & wild experimentation, I guess it may not fit the bill. That being said, it is far less predictable than your average pop-rock fare. There are hundreds of surprising moments, such as rhythmic changes and unexpected melodic twists. What keeps Narrow-Caster in heavy rotation in my player is the fact that the songs could be sung along with a single guitar (or keyboard), and would still be a good/great song. The production is outstanding, and the imaginative instrumentation and STELLAR harmonies add a great deal - but if you stripped most of it away it would still be quality stuff. (the only slight exception for me is the song Scenery, which, though good, is my least favorite of the lot, and the only one I'm ever tempted to skip. I feel that the Queenesque harmonies can't quite compensate for the underlying tune not being as interesting as the others. The belting it out vocals at the end add to the feeling that they are trying to make the song more than it naturally is) Otherwise, I never get the sense that the production is a substitute for songwriting, as I do with so much other stuff that I hear. Did I mention that George Dobbs is an INCREDIBLE singer? Well, perhaps I should. I'd pay to listen to him sing nursery rhymes. His vocals are ridiculously versatile, going from a scream to a whisper and anything in between with great ease. His note range is impressive, but more so there is just some indescribable quality to his voice that sets him apart. The rest of the band are no slouches either, each with his own virtuosic chops. If you are on the fence about buying this CD, let me state for the record that the song Cautionary Tale is well worth the small investment (heck, the first 7 seconds alone!) Other faves include Live with This Forever (try to get this one out of your head in a timely manner - oh, and lest I forget..cool bass harmonics Robert..and clever transition at 4:45 while I'm at it), It Works (I'm a sucker for dissonance), Narrow-Caster (admittedly jeopardizing the progressive label - but ever so catchy) & Young Once (ok, this on IS undeniably prog at least from 2:41 on :) Well, I could really ramble on if I start mentioning all the cool stuff on this recording. I recommend that you get it and discover them for yourself! -Doug in Vermont

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Send comments to saxydrr (BETA) | Report this review (#202874)
Posted Sunday, February 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars At first listen I didn't find this album very appealing. I was searching for instrumental intricacies and somewhat heavy prog. At first i thought the singer sounded like Michael Jackson- Still it lingered in my Mp3 player, and in the casual random play it went growing more and more on me. Finally the song Proverbial babana slip stood out as a favorite, then apophenia, and so on. Now I most admit that i really like most of the album. The thing is that the strong side of the band is the vocal part of the music. Not that the music is flat, the album is vocally driven, and that's not a bad thing. Give it various listen and it turns out very good.

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Send comments to omarello (BETA) | Report this review (#204306)
Posted Wednesday, February 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
Gooner
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars In a perfect world, 3rDegree would be signed to a major record label with promotion and would be known as moderate radio stars respected by fellow musicians for their craft. Sort of like Steely Dan. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and 3rDegree is forced to release these prog.rock gems on their own. They even allude to such in the liner notes as being frustrated in the _land of cover bands New Jersey_ in the nineties. Against these elements, we have the art of 3rDegree. You won't hear any long epics a la _Gates Of Delerium_-Yes, nor any Barbarian-ELPs. But you will hear literate rock&roll songwriting on par with Kevin Gilbert/Toy Matinee, bits of Rush, slight Gentle Giant influence, a little Max Webster, flighty side of 10cc, mid-period Split Enz and a vocal delivery at once sounding not unlike Jeff Buckley...the next an aggressive Stevie Wonder. Also, minor jazz flourishes appear here and there. This is the kind of music that will grow on you. A real knack for nuance and detail. As _Smells Like Teen Spirit_ by Nirvana was the theme for a generation, the track _Cautionary Tale_ by 3rDegree could very well be the theme of the 2000s. If you are a political zealot, the lyrics of _Cautionary Tale_ will check your ego at the door. It manages to question ideoligies of both the 'left' and 'right' of the political, religious and moral spectrum without mentioning any names, organizations, beliefs or creed. It doesn't come across as preachy either. Quite profound. The music is incredible too, sounding like no one but themselves. A definitive 5 stars. It's 3rdDegree's _Tom Sawyer_, a defining track for this band. The first 3 tracks _Apophenia_, _It Works_ and _Narrow-Caster_ flow together like a mini-suite. Another highlight. The track that sounds the most influenced by Gentle Giant would have to be _Scenery_ which has a chanting-like vocal along with some atmospheric GG moments a la _His Last Voyage_ or _Memories of Old Days_. This is sure to make my top 5 of 2009. Highly recommended.

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Send comments to Gooner (BETA) | Report this review (#211133)
Posted Sunday, April 12, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars 2008 has been an important year for New Jersey progressive rock band 3rdegree. After reforming in 2005 and releasing their first album in 11 years, the band has once again started to show off their musical abilities. The band features George Dobbs on lead vocals and keyboards, Robert J. Pashman on bass/vocals, Pat Kliesch on guitar/vocals, and Rob Durham on drums/percussion.

"Narrow-Caster" the newest album features some of the best modern prog out there. Cited as January's Artist of the Month for the eminent progressive rock website, Progarchives, the band's latest release is a treat for anyone looking to listen to something with a little energy and drive.

The album opens with "Apophenia" a song that echoes prog rock greats, Gentle Giant. (The band has actually covered the GG song "Peel the Paint" as well). Ethereal sounding guitars, along with a catchy bass hook and vocal harmonies round out this great opener. Next is "It Works" a song featuring some jazzy piano melodies, smooth relaxed drumming, and some talented organ playing.

"Narrow-Caster" the title track and my favorite off the album. It is somewhat similar to the previous song, but has a more soulful feel and some of the best vocals from George Dobbs on the entire album along with the steady drumbeat that follows the vocals. Following this is "Live with this forever" which has some soaring guitar work and crunching bass. After that we come to epic sounding "Cautionary Tale" which has a Yes sounding tone to it.

"The Proverbial Banana Peel" is probably the most hard rocking of all the songs on the album, especially with its grittier vocals. "Young Once" follows this by taking off some of the edge and relaxing the listener with spacey and relaxing keyboards. "Scenery" is a nice peaceful pastoral song with more awesome vocal harmonies, something I have enjoyed a lot on this album.

"Free for all" is another heavier song with some excellent fuzzy sounding bass playing by bassist Rob Pashman. The final song "The Last Grasp" closes the album and includes some majestic keyboard and dynamic instrumentation from all members of the band. I find it to be an excellent closer to an already powerful album.

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Send comments to Jozef (BETA) | Report this review (#219863)
Posted Thursday, June 04, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album showcases a group that loves clean, ear friendly melody lines and choruses, balanced instrumentation, mid tempo songs, restrained (and few) solos and nostalgic-feeling tunes. 3Rdegree seem to built their songs around mr Dobbs' distinctive voice and compositions support all vocal parts which are top notch indeed. I would say that 'Narrow-caster" leans toward the pop side of art rock, which is not a bad thing at all, as it provides beautiful melodies all the way. My 4 stars rating is for their honesty, the guitar and keyboard melodies, the tight rhythm section, the vocal harmonies and the production, although after the more complex and groovy "Apophenia" one would expect something more "crazy" and less restrained to follow.

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Send comments to Astryos (BETA) | Report this review (#257893)
Posted Saturday, December 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Narrow-Caster" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US progressive rock act 3rDegree and the first album by the band since "Human Interest Story (1996)" (the band broke up in 1997 and it wasnīt until 2005 that they got back together). "Narrow- Caster" was independently released by 3rDegree and is available through various internet music retailers.

3rDegree play a pop oriented and catchy progressive rock style on "Narrow- Caster". The tracks are all between 3 and 5 minutes long and vers/chorus structured with an emphasis on memorable choruses. The sound production is polished and clean and suits the music well. The band are very well playing and itīs obvious that these guys arenīt newbies. The vocals by George Dobbs are strong and often layered with harmony vocals which remind me slightly of Kingīs X. Other than that Iīd say Rush and maybe Spockīs Beard at their most pop oriented are references too.

"Narrow-Caster" is neither the most progressive nor the most revolutionizing album out there, but itīs a damn solid release that Iīm sure will please fans of more pop oriented and accessible progressive rock. A 3.5 star rating is warranted.

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Send comments to UMUR (BETA) | Report this review (#556415)
Posted Monday, October 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
b_olariu
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars After they disbanded a year after Human intrest story in 1997, 3 members of original line up decided to re form in early 2005 and for that matter they come with their third release so far in 2008 named Narrow-caster. Well, not much is changes of the past almost 15 years since their previous one, maybe they incorporated more heavy prog sections and because of that this album sounds more with balls in some parts remind me of Rush, there is no more that dull almost pale arrangements of previous album. The album is catchy in places but again , the pieces are all short without being developed into more complex parts, verse/chorus and some instrumental passages is not enough for me to say that this one is better then the predecesor, is almost the same only the year of release is diffrent. Not a particular piece is in front , all have same attitude, no highlits, only ok. Simply I can't give more then 3 stars, even if I'm listning 100 times, someting is missing in overall message they gave me after some listings. 3 stars no more , no less.

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Send comments to b_olariu (BETA) | Report this review (#612365)
Posted Wednesday, January 18, 2012 | Review Permalink
Roland113
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars "It Works, its creator must be proud"

Yes, yes it does work.

3rdegree blends shades of traditional influences with some atypical styles, most notably funk and soul. Couple this with excellent musicianship and the soulful voice of George Dobbs and you've got a unique collection of songs that gets better with every listen.

Narrow Caster is the third release by New Jersey based 3rdegree, the first after a nearly twelve year hiatus and as the second track so adequately declares, "It Works". According to the cd liner notes, the bulk of material was originally written in the mid-nineties but sat dormant for ten years before it was rediscovered during a house cleaning excursion by bassist Robert James Pashman. After listening to the music again, he decided to reunite band and actually finish recording the music. Thankfully, for the rest of us, the band agreed with Robert, the unfinished project needed to see the light and thus, 3rdegree was reborn.

3rdegree has a much greater focus on songs rather than epic sprawling pieces often associated with prog. None of the individual songs reach the six minute mark. While the prog pundit may question the lack of an epic initially, the band shows their prog credentials right off the bat with "Apophenia". Alternating measures of 5/8 and 7/8 create a manic groove the flows beautifully into a rolling chorus in 6/8. Don't miss George Dobbs chaotically short keyboard solo over the 5- 7/8 groove.

George is not your typical prog singer, imagine Tarrence Trent D'arbey in a lounge setting and you have an approximation of what to expect. "It Works" serves as a showpiece for the voice of Mr. Dobbs and it easily my favorite song on the CD. I think I did a personal top one hundred songs a few years ago and had this song in my top twenty. Also, this song features fantastic solos, both by Mr. Dobbs again, this time on the clavinet and also Pat Kleisch on the guitar with a dirty little lead.

Everyone gets the chance to shine in this band and the title track is Robert James Pashman's chance to show off his chops and tone on the bass. On the surface, "Narrow-Caster" is a gentle, funky little tune but when I sat and listened to the bass work specifically, I gained a better appreciation of the song.

"Live With This Forever" really shows off the previously mentioned funky side with the groove laid down by drummer Robert Durham and Robert Pashman. The prophetic catch line in the chorus, "This ain't something you can shower off," stuck with me for a few hours.

'Atmospheric' is the word that I'd use for "Cautionary Tale", Pat Kleisch shows a bit'o'Fripp here with the lush background noodling layered behind the verses. He then goes on to rip off a solo in the same vein blending lead and atmosphere beautifully.

"Young Once" starts off sadly underwhelming. It's a relatively standard chord progression in the verse, a somewhat catchy chorus but not the most noteworthy of songs. . . at first. Once you get through the verse / chorus opening structure, the real merit of the song shows through first with a tasty bridge then into an esoteric almost new age section that would make Jean-Michel Jarre proud. After a few moments of gentle ambience they slide into a Pink Floyd sounding outro. There is so much going on here that it's really worth a dedicated listening session with a nice set of head phones in a dark room. Beautiful ending though I think it could have gone on for an additional five minutes of noodling and I'd be ok with it.

When we get to "The Last Gasp" we can look back at the album with a sense of satisfaction, glad to have been on the journey through the flat out prog of Apophenea, the soul of "It Works", the poppy sounds of Narrow-Castor, the funk of "Live With This Forever", and the New Age space of Young Once. It's almost like the band took a look at this point and said, 'hmm, what have we forgotten? . . . Classical!" Yes, that's right, just when you thought you heard it all, the last half of the final track is an absolutely gorgeous piece full of lush strings and classical themes. A fantastic ending for one of my favorite CD's of the past few years.

This is a dense CD that covers a lot of ground very efficiently earning it a solid four star rating. I personally would have enjoyed some of the themes developed into longer sections, a few of the songs could have been extended to the seven or eight minute mark allowing us to luxuriate in the grooves that they created for us, but that is not what this band is about.

3rdegree is not 'in your face' with their complexity and George Dobbs voice is so smooth and soulful that it's easy to just relax to the music. This is not prog for the sake of 'look at me'; it's more a collection of great songs that blend their constant time shifts with the music. There are few bands that can pull off a soul ballad with constantly shifting time signatures that don't sound contrived . . . and that's when it hits you, these guys are great.

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Send comments to Roland113 (BETA) | Report this review (#906901)
Posted Tuesday, February 05, 2013 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover Team
5 stars After raving about 2012's 'The Long Division', it only seems right that I ought to go backwards and listen to something else by these guys. The band broke up not long after releasing 'Human Interest Story' in 1996, only getting back together in 2007 so perhaps it isn't surprising that this 2008 album is actually a collection of ideas from the Nineties together with some new ones. This was their third studio album altogether, and having now only heard it some five years after it came out I am still at a loss to explain why these guys aren't far more widely known. This is radio friendly commercially acceptable classic rock/art rock/prog rock, so how come they aren't being spoken about as the next big thing? I'm sure that it can't have anything to do with their age, how they look, or that they write their own material and can play their own instruments can it? Surely not, where would the music industry be if everything was just created crap for the masses (etc, etc)?

As with the later album, this has many musical connections with City Boy and Alan Parsons Project, along with 10CC and Steely Dan: it is well-crafted melodic music with stacks of hooks and vocals to die for. There is something about the album that makes me smile as I play it, with the additional benefit that this is an album that brings summer to the coldest day. It's winter here in NZ as I write this, but there is a warm glow coming from my speakers that brightens the mood.

There is a feeling that these guys can really rock when they want to, but keep a lid on it so that the vocals and melodies stay at the forefront, even though there are times when there are some fairly brutal riffs coming out. Listen to "The Proverbial Banana Peel" to get a taste of just how controlled these guys are; at times there are gentle keyboards and a great bassline in the background with loads of space while at others there is some wonderful fuzzed distorted guitar that gives it a totally different feel.

This is an album that just begs to be played on repeat, and surely that is all anyone wants? This is for fans of good music, whatever the genre. www.3rdegreeonline.com

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Send comments to kev rowland (BETA) | Report this review (#976414)
Posted Wednesday, June 12, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars I got this after listening to their latest, 2012's The Long Division, and I must say I was more impressed by Long Division. This album sounds kind of like angry adult oriented rock with non-linear song structures, elements of 70s soul and funk. Main alternating tones, often within a song, are the more soulful and more gritty, with rumbling guitar and bass. Vocals are on the high side and sometimes raspy. Production is DIY, instruments separated in the mix (the way I like it). Nothing terribly complicated or flashy, the band goes more after the mood. It's melodic alright, but if compared to The Long Division, songs on Narrow-Caster are generally heavier, two minutes shorter and yet less groovy and catchy. Usually with prog bands it is the other way around - the shorter songs are more immediate and longer ones take more time to sink in.

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Send comments to Progrussia (BETA) | Report this review (#1047247)
Posted Sunday, September 29, 2013 | Review Permalink

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