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An Edwardian Trip through Hades: CAPACITOR by COSMOGRAF

Stunning album cover.  A progged-out version of Dolby's GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS.  Brilliant.

Stunning album cover by the wonderful Graeme Bell. A progged-out version of Dolby’s GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS. Brilliant.

Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR is everything a rock album should be.  And, I do mean EVERYTHING.  EVERY.  SINGLE. THING.  It is wholesome, fractured, creepy, uplifting, contemplative, mythic, existentialist, moving, intense, wired, dramatic, contemplative, Stoic, mystifying, weird, satisfying, honed, nuanced, dark, and light.

 

The Meaning of It All

If I could capture the album in one sentence, comparing it to other forms of art, I would and will put it this way: CAPACITOR is an Edwardian journey into the Hades of the Ancient Greeks but emerging in BIOSHOCK.

Then, think about the artists involved.  Andy Tillison plays keyboards on it.  Matt Stevens plays guitar on it.  Nick Beggs and Colin Edwin play bass on it. NVD plays all of the drums. Our modern master of sound, Rob Aubrey, the Phill Brown of our day, engineered it.

[Correction: from Rob Aubrey.  My apologies for getting the credits and terms mixed up.  “Hi All, Actually I didn’t ENGINEER it as such…. I recorded the Drums with NDV and then everything else was Produced and Engineered by Robin… He Mixed the album at home and I was here in an advisory role, just giving a hand when he ran into problems or I felt things needed more work. Robin and I mastered the album together just a few Months ago on my studio system here (Pro Tools) using all of his original sessions so Robin could make adjustments to the overall dynamic and “tweak” individual sounds if necessary. I cannot take credit for much as Robin really is the genius here!”]

Then, of course, there’s the artist supreme, the writer, director, and producer of it all, Robin Armstrong. English wit, critic, musician, lyricist, father, husband, entrepreneur, and demigod of chronometry, Armstrong is one of the most interesting persons of our day and age. He’s already proven everything an artist should in his previous albums, especially in The Man Left in Space.

Armstrong is a driven man, and it’s impossible to think of him without thinking not only of perfectionism, but also of his insatiable desire to perfect a thing even more so. In terms of constitution, he is probably incapable of doing otherwise. We all benefit from his unrelenting drive.

On the latest album, CAPACITOR, Armstrong explores the Edwardian fascination with spiritualism, giving us not “steam punk” but what should be called “vacuum tube punk,” something quite different from that of either H.G. Wells or Bruce Sterling.

The statement “energy cannot be created or destroyed” appears in print, in word, and in song multiple times on CAPACITOR. If this is true, Armstrong asks through his characters and story, where does our energy—our soul—go after the body fails us? We are everywhere and in every time, he notes, surrounded by the ghosts of the dead. Even if we don’t personally believe in an afterlife, we see “what they left with us.”

Ghosts appear frequently on the album, as does a vaudevillian preacher and a spiritual medium. In the end, though, especially by the final two tracks, Armstrong is critiquing the rise and predominance of “the machine,” any gadget that mechanizes us, makes us less than human, and distracts or captures our very soul and very essence, thus diminishing our humanity.

The person, it seems, can never be fully an individual without body and soul, not in war with one another, but in healthy tension.

 

The Meaning of It All, Continued

Musically, CAPACITOR immerses us into perfection itself. See above for the musicians Armstrong has brought together. He’s obviously a creator of community and a leavenor of talent. He’s also within the prog tradition, with musical passages inspired by, indirectly, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Big Big Train, and The Tangent and, directly, The Beatles. Indeed, one of the most rousing moments musically comes in “The Reaper’s Song,” a song that, in large part, pays homage to THE MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR by the Beatles (1967).

The white car.  Original photography by Dan Armstrong.  Booklet art by Robin Armstrong.

The white car. Original photography by Dan Armstrong. Booklet art by Robin Armstrong.

Sitting in a station, waiting for a train to come

Frighten all the people, standing on the platform

Trying not to push them over

Trains are gonna crush them

Stupid little people

Stupid little people

Another track, “White Car,” has absolutely nothing to do with the unfinished fragment of the Yes song from DRAMA (1980). Yes’s song will have to continue in my soul as an unresolved enigma until the end of time.

 

A Masterpiece

It goes without stating (though, I will state it anyway!), the last several years have been not only amazing when it comes to rock, but they have also been, probably, the best years in the history of progressive rock.

2014 has been no different.

Please, however, don’t think of Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR as merely another Cosmograf release or as merely another prog rock release.

Of course, there is no such thing as “just another Cosmograf release,” though we might become a bit jaded when it comes to another “prog rock release.” There’s so much coming out at the moment, it would be understandable—if not forgivable—to take the historic moment for granted. Even with the somewhat overwhelming number of music cds appearing over the last several years, CAPACITOR is truly something special and, dare I use a word overused and misused for its sappiness, precious.

From my way of thinking, CAPACITOR is the best cd of 2014 and one of the best prog rock releases of all time. It is, at least this year, the one for all others to surpass. I very much look forward to those who embrace the challenge.

 

To pre-order for the June 2, 2014, release, please go here.

Progarchist and quasi-Kiwi Russell Clarke receives his copy and is quite elated.

Progarchist and quasi-Kiwi Russell Clarke receives his copy and is quite elated.

Chronometry, Cosmograf, and Perfection: The Man Left in Space

By Brad Birzer

cosmografAs 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. Read the rest of this entry

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