By Brad Birzer
As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve been having a Big Big Train-love fest for the past several days at Progarchy. Even our criticisms (well, not mine; but I won’t point fingers) have been written out of love and respect.
Another recent release that deserves a massive amount of attention is the fourth cd by Robin Armstrong, writing under the name, Cosmograf. Yes, it deserves a MASSIVE (Ok, I’m yelling at you, fair reader; it’s not personal, I promise!) amount of attention. Massive.
Following Cosmograf’s history, it comes across far more as a project than a band. I’m not sure Robin would put it this way, but this is how it strikes me. Each album has been a concept with a variety of guest musicians. For this current album, The Man Left in Space, Robin has chosen the best of the best: Greg Spawton (who wouldn’t love this guy), Nick d’Virgilio (giving Peart a run for his money since 1990!), Matt Stevens (a young guy already inducted in the Anglo-Saxon pantheon of guitar gods), and other brilliant folks such as Dave Meros (ye, of the Beard!), Luke Machin, and Steve Dunn. Robin knows how to get the absolute best, and he knows how to bring the best out of his guests. Then, add the additional production of the ultimate audiophile of our time, Rob Aubrey. Can it really get much better than this? Not really.
By profession, Robin is a master of all things time-related. He’s a watch dealer and a watch repairman. I find this so very appropriate. What better thing for a musician and composer to be than to be a master Chronometer (I have no idea if this is the proper term, but I like the sound of it). Chronometrician? Ok, I’m floundering here, but I assume you get the point. Precision, mystery, time, eternity, space, place, humanity. . . Robin Armstrong.
Released about a month ago, The Man Left in Space has been in constant play and rotation for me. And, I have no doubt that it will remain so for years to come. This is not just the best Cosmograf album (and I love nos. 2 and 3–still haven’t been able to locate #1), it’s a masterpiece of prog. The Man Left in Space is what I would term lush, layered, complex, space, guitar prog–all very, very intelligent. Ok, I hate labels–but these labels fit. There’s also, rather brilliantly, a lot of influence from various movie soundtracks. Think everything from 2001 and Blade Runner to Babylon 5 and Fringe.
Robin is truly an exemplar when it comes to concepts, and this album is perfect conceptually. The lyrics are haunting, disturbing, relaxing, philosophical, theological, existential, and humane, all at the same time. There’s a lot of sampling of U.S. presidents, and I was worried these voices might be distracting, but they actually make the presidents (whom I normally think little of–such as Kennedy and Nixon) very real and spirited.
It’s utterly clear that Robin has a love of exploration and a profound respect those willing to dare. It’s hard not to find his own love–no matter how existential the lyrics–infectious.
While I’ve never met Robin personally (though, I hope to), I suspect like so many other greats in the prog world, he’s a perfectionist. My guess is that a watch-man could be nothing less. This album radiates perfection. Every detail seems just right, from the production of the CD (aided by the superman of the production and engineering field, Rob Aubrey) to the actual layout of the CD booklet. If you can only get this by downloading it, do so. But, if you can order the CD, definitely do so.
This is the kind of CD art and booklet that I can pour over for hours and hours, just as I used to do with albums. Robin’s CD is also much like the releases from another prog perfectionist, Arjen Lucassen. Indeed, one might call Cosmograf the English Ayreon. Robin is more concrete in his science fiction than is the wild imagination of Lucassen (another favorite, as Arjen well knows!), but the comparison is a fair one. I can only imagine what might happen if these two ever get together. Phew, this would be explosive.
Robin, thank you. The Man Left in Space is simply gorgeous, and it’s a must own for any lover of music and, especially, for any lover of prog and science fiction. It’s clear that you gave everything you had for this and then some. And, it was more than worth it. You’ve made some history here.
My one request: write The Man Left in Space as a story and publish it. I’d buy it and promote it in an instant!