When it comes to finding the legitimate inheritors of the legacy of Pink Floyd’s dystopian psychedelic prog phase (in particular, ANIMALS), there are only three serious contenders: Airbag; Dave Kerzner; and Cosmograf. While all three are excellent, Cosmograf has consistently honored the tradition while progressing in the most existentialist ways possible. Airbag might be more atmospheric, and Kerzner might be poppier, but no one does what Cosmograf does when it comes to angst and intensity.
Unfortunately, I didn’t come to the music of Cosmograf until the second album, WHEN AGE HAS DONE ITS DUTY. When I first listened to it, I was so taken with the sound that I decided to immerse myself as fully as possible in the first two albums. For what it’s worth, I recognized immediately that this was a major act, already having come into its own in terms of maturity and vision, but not yet widely known, even among prog-heads. I was thrilled to realize that I was getting in on the ground floor and that I could watch this band rise from initial struggles to sure success.
Whether I should’ve or not, I reached out to the creative genius behind (and really embodying at every level) Cosmograf, Robin Armstrong. Unbelievably generous with this noisy American, Armstrong returned my inquiries with seriousness, intelligence, and wit. Just like his music.
The latest album, THE UNREASONABLE SILENCE, the fifth studio album by Armstrong, is simply stunning. Indeed, I don’t think I could come up with enough descriptives and superlatives to do this album justice. As with the previous albums, Armstrong employs existential lyrical themes with expansive and exploratory prog. Thematically, all of Armstrong’s albums seem like the prog equivalents of the best episodes of the XFILES, always balancing questions of sanity, alienation, rationality, and the occult. The third album, THE MAN LEFT IN SPACE, was the story of THE MARTIAN before Ridley Scott made his film. The fourth album, CAPACITATOR, considered the possibility of the soul as energy to be captured, stored, and transferred. But, if album number four explored the timeless qualities of the human experience, THE UNREASONABLE SILENCE considers the innermost insanities and dark realities of a person. It’s never entirely clear if the protagonist of THE UNREASONABLE SILENCE is trapped in his own reality, or if he really is being probed by alien invaders. Whatever is happening, there is serious disturbances of reality happening here.
And, yet, it must be noted, as in all of his albums, Armstrong does not ask us merely to witness the story, he wants us to live it.
As with all previous albums by COSMOGRAF, the latest album mixes voices, dialogue, and sound effects with the actual music. Far from being blatant or over the top, Armstrong’s noises serve as additional instruments in the music. This is a rare gift and ability, frankly, as too often the incorporation of external effects in prog negates the very power of the music. In pop, one can immediately think of Trevor Horn as the master of this, but he intentionally places his effects to shock rather than harmonize. Not so with Armstrong. No one mixes the external with the art better than he. In this, Armstrong is sheer genius. As the music soars, video game effects, battle terrors, and voice mails fade in and out of the story, always augmenting the power of the whole album.
As to the music, think of a very hard ANIMALS, but better and more mature. Reverbish guitar (think U2 or The Cure from ca. 1990), swirling bass, precise drumming, and centering piano predominate.
I really can’t praise Cosmograf, THE UNREASONABLE SILENCE, or Robin Armstrong enough. The man is both gift and genius. And, he produces nothing that is not of the highest excellence. It’s written in the very DNA of Armstrong’s soul, I presume. He’s the kind of man who would never do a single thing without doing it as well as possible. After all, why waste one’s time (the artist’s or the listener’s) on something only well done when it can be perfectly done.
THE UNREASONABLE SILENCE is not only one of the best releases of 2016, it’s one of the finest prog releases over the last four decades. Every time Cosmograf releases an album, I think it would be impossible to top it. Yet, no matter how high of a bar Armstrong sets, he beats it every time. Every single time.
Order the album here: http://www.cosmograf.com/shop/the-unreasonable-silence-cd/