A review of Glass Hammer, Chronomonaut (forthcoming, 2018, Sound Resources). Steve Babb: Bass; Fred Schendel; keyboards; Aaron Raulston, drums; Susie Bodanowicz, vocals; and various guests, guitars and vocals.
Glass Hammer’s latest album, Chronomonaut, entices and sparks so much of my imagination that I have a difficult time deciding how to start, construct, or end a review of this stunning piece of art. I could review this as a distinctive piece of American culture and Americana; as a treasure hunt and quest; as a progressive rock album; as a philosophical examination of nostalgia; as a theological pondering on the nature of time; or as a fully-blown science fiction tale worthy of anything written by Robert Heinlein or Kevin J. Anderson. In some way, no review of this album can really be faithful to the material if it doesn’t take into account all of these things.
Then, there’s the grand problem of my words and the art of my writing doing justice to Glass Hammer’s words and the art of composition. Frankly, it’s all a bit intimidating.
Since 2002, I’ve had a serious problem. I’ve been addicted to Glass Hammer. With each new release since Lex Rex, I have stated, “this is the best album of Glass Hammer’s career. The band is not only in its finest form yet, but the band continues to prove why they are America’s greatest rock band.” Yes, I’ve now stated this very same thing—or something quite like it—eleven times. And, each time, it’s been true.
It’s true this time as well. Immaculate story telling, soaring and varied musical passages, an uncanny number of musical styles, and Susie Bogdanowicz’s angelic voice combine to make ChonomonautGlass Hammer’s most majestic album yet. And, yet again, Glass Hammer proves why it’s America’s greatest rock band as well as being one of the two best progressive rock bands in the world.
Because so much of the progressive rock scene is centered in and around the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, American progressive rock bands simply can’t get the same attention as those located on the other side of the Atlantic. A true loss for the Europeans, frankly, especially when it comes to the best of our best, Glass Hammer. Though, of course, those Europeans who know Glass Hammer love them as their recent gigs in Italy so beautifully demonstrated. It’s also a loss for American prog acts as well, as they deserve to be far better known than they are.
Chronomonaut continues the story of Tom Timely, who first appeared on Glass Hammer’s masterful Chronometree(2000). I didn’t know the best then, and, if I had, I would have written the same thing about Chronometree as I have on every successive Glass Hammer release. On that album, Tom became convinced that the universe and all of creation spoke through him—rather gnostically—in the form of prog rock lyrics. Much like numerologists and alchemists, Tom strove to discover the hidden key to the meaning of life. Yet, unlike most numerologists and alchemists, Tom is a sympathetic character.
Over the last year, Glass Hammer have mischievously and convincingly been re-creating Tom Timely, the “Elf King” on social media. He appears as a very real person on Facebook. Over the last few months, the band has—in the name of Tom—released video after video from 1983, revealing Tom’s passions as well as his anxieties as he seeks the answers to the meaning of life, space, and time. Band mates come and go, as does a frustrated girlfriend, worrying that her boyfriend is descending into madness. The videos, excellent in and of themselves, hover somewhere very near Hawkins, Indiana, the fictional setting of Stranger Things. Indeed, with the latest album, Tom might very well exist in the same universe as the Demogorgon, the upside down, and the mind flayer.
With the album comes the actual story of Tom. So, on one side of the CD booklet are the lyrics; facing opposite is the story of Tom. Babb has proved repeatedly—in his lyrics as well as in his published poetry—that he is as much a master of the word as he is of the note. Babb’s prose here only further reveals his creativity and his stylistic finesse. In telling the story of Tom, the band has given us a similar story, inviting us to explore the meaning of life, time, and space.
As I mentioned above, one could readily take Chronomonautas a treasure hunt, as we devour and analyze the lyrics and the story. But, there’s another treasure hunt as well—snippets of Tom’s loves in music. Musically, this is by far the most diverse album Glass Hammer has made. Throughout the album, the band intermixes and alternates a very clean and modern sounding electronica prog (again, think Stranger Things) with styles that came in and out of fashion since the late 1960s. A careful listen reveals the styles of Traffic, early Chicago, ELP, Abacab-era Genesis, Vangelis’s Blade Runner, early Cars, and so many more. That Glass Hammer can weave all of these together into a coherent and compelling tapestry is astounding. All of the older styles are sung by men, with all of the newer ones sung by Bogdanowicz.
As always, every note Bogdanowicz sings achingly takes away my breath, grabbing me deep in the soul, and calling me to seek all that is beautiful in creation. She possesses, unquestionably, the finest voice in rock. The passion she brings to the music has a depth that only early Sarah McLachlan can match. It’s confessional, but with the power of supernatural conviction.
It’s not just Bogdanowicz, of course. Schendel possesses demigod abilities on the keyboards; Babb is a true poet and stunning bassist; and Raulston continues to grow into the closest rival of Nick D’Virgilio in the rock world.
Simply put, there are so many layers, twists, turns, surprises, and joys in this album, that it demands repeated listens. Chronomonautis an album that now resides with Grace Under Pressure, Songs from the Big Chair, Spirit of Eden, and The Underfall Yard. It’s not a passing fancy or simply “one more release,” but a majestic album that calls forth all that is best within us. No small feat, especially in our present cultural whirligig of insanity and horrors. In its own madness, Chronomonaut brings order and truth to the artistic and longing soul.
You can (and should) pre-order your copy of Chronomonaut immediately.