By Jonathan Ko
From the very first powerful guitar riffs and concussive drum fills of Intelligent Music Project’s latest album “Sorcery Inside” (2019), the listener knows exactly what to expect: music that is unapologetically rock, striking with a uniquely syncopated, stylish strength. For anyone who yearns for the songs of our childhood, before pop took over the radio, this is the album for you. The thousands of us who grew up on alt rock songs like “Hey There Delilah” or “Dear Maria Count Me In” or “Africa” will find something vaguely recognizable and nostalgic in the bold guitar solos and soaring vocals so prevalent within “Sorcery Inside.“
Indeed, the cast of the Intelligent Music Project resembles an ensemble of the elder statesmen of rock, featuring a collection of decorated artists like Toto drummer Simon Phillips and Asia lead vocalist John Payne. The evident talent of each individual member of the band shines through at various points during the album; “Every Morning” and “Life Lingers” place soaring vocals center stage, while an extended instrumental soundscape in “No One Falls Behind” showcases the surpassing skill of the guitarist and the drummer. Throughout it all, the production stands out for its silky smoothness, stitching together each aspect of the band’s throwback sound with commendable dexterity.
“Sorcery Inside” clearly attempts to be a modern-day alternative rock album, at times trading the traditional electrical-guitar driven sound for more experimental substitutes. However, this often produces a jarring effect within the album; after two opening songs that go pedal-to-the-metal, “As If” slides in with uplifting strings serving as its willowy backbone, relegating the electric guitar to a supporting role for one song before the next song resumes the scheduled programming of head-bangable rock. Just one outlier on the album might be excusable, but the tenth track “Granted” again comes in with an acoustic guitar and what sounds like a harmonica on top of a twangy bass undertone.
The Intelligent Music Project does succeed in many other songs when building upon its strengths and layering synths underneath its more classic electric guitar and drum-driven sound, like in “Every Morning.” Overall, the album is a blast to listen through, filled with an energy so infectious the listener feels injected with more and more adrenaline with each successive song. It is so easy to just feel like the album is taking the listener on a grand adventure through space with its sublime production, powerful instrumentals and impeccable vocals.
The only real issue with the album is that for this particular classic-leaning rock sound, the train has largely left the station. Intelligent Music Project’s headliners are all more than 50 years old, still well equipped with their musical prowess, but passed on by the mainstream. While radios used to blast alt rock, today’s Hot 100 consists of almost exclusively pop, hip-hop and pop-rap.
The final song, “Love,” is a perfect 5-minute encapsulation of the album. It showcases all of the top-to-bottom talent evident in the project as a whole, from production to guitar to drums to vocals. The singer belts his heart out, an extended instrumental section highlights the guitarist’s prowess, and the drummer lays down a rock-solid backbone throughout. But perhaps “Love” is truly most representative in its lyrics: “A little bit of love, I’m only dreaming.” Intelligent Music Project’s “Sorcery Inside” is a plea to a music industry that has moved past its genre, a passionately potent project that 30 years ago would have been a chart-topper, but today will probably go unheard except for old-school rock fans.
Contact Jonathan Ko at jonathanko ‘at’ stanford.edu.