The first thing that jumps out at me from Reset, North Texas prog-rock outfit Raven Charter’s third record, is its sonic perfection: perfectly played, perfectly recorded, with time signatures switching back and forth like an F-1 car navigating rush hour. The vocals zoom and echo in front of you like a bat zinging around a crystal cavern, while nervy guitar arpeggios intertwine. Check “The Antagonist” for what I mean, because that track sounds like a tune from a Zelda game set in space. The guitars, limned in a Sears Christmas catalog’s worth of tightly wielded effects pedals, slither and slink like a pair of cybernetic snakes. It’s a thrilling moment, third from the album’s final track, and when it leads into the “Edge,” it makes you remember that prog doesn’t only mean King Crimson and Dream Theater but that At the Drive-In was prog for people too cool for 2112.
Sonically, this is what Michael W. Smith records from the early ’90s sound like, which you may know to be among the most academically perfectly produced and engineered records ever. Except, man, I think this record sounds better, and when the Charter plays something challenging, like the weird, modal guitar part toward the end of “Edge,” the production and the songwriting join forces in a really exciting way. But the other part that makes me think about Michael W. Smith is that lead vocalist Garret Bond has a set of similar-sounding pipes.
The lyrics are generally positive, about themes like self-expression and life’s lack of absolutes. “When I’m Under” is a particularly moody track I enjoyed a lot. This lyric: “I’m fading / In a haze all day and night” sets a darker tone that sells the later verses’ exploring regrets. But Bond’s vocal timbre and the kind of melodic ideas you’d find in so-called “active rock” bands or funky alt-rock bands like Hoobastank and Incubus might put some people off –– it’s hard not to think some of this is cheesy, but then you’ll hear a part like bassist Anthony Sosa’s phased-out womp (a more accurate onomatopoeia for that sound is actually wurmp) in “Defunkt” and get back on board with the music. –– Steve Steward