With Affinity, Haken proves definitively that this band is in the upper echelon of musical talent. The album departs from what the band has usually done before, but whereas this would usually generate outrage and disappointment, Haken is not your usual band.
Instead of recycling their past glories and shoring up their dedicated fan base, Haken has boldly risked everything and created a unique, completely original musical offering. As if to demonstrate that every fibre of their being refuses mindless mimicry, Affinity deliberately chooses to mine musical inspiration from the 80s, but only in order to perform a kind of musical miracle: while referencing the past, it doesn’t repeat it; instead, it transforms it into a uniquely personal creative act.
The album opener, “Initiate,” gives minor clues that the album will be a fresh direction. But then “1985” follows fast on its on heels with a mind-blowing array of sonic references to the 80s, including unbelievably cool synth sounds harkening back to Peter Gabriel’s Security album (during the “map in hand / direction misaligned” section of “1985”).
Quite simply, “1985” is one of the greatest songs you will ever hear. It performs the feat of time travel back to 1985, creating an alternate universe where both Yes’ 90125 and Haken’s “1985” would be playing back-to-back on the same radio station. It is absolutely my favorite track on this album because everything about it, every twist and turn, is so incredibly satisfying. It manages to be both familiar and unexpected at the same time. I don’t know how the hell they did it! But it’s wonderful.
“Lapse” then gives the listener a chance to catch their breath, only to blindside them with the album’s 15:40 epic, “The Architect.” The complexity of this track means that it will take you longer to get into it, unlike the immediately accessible genius of “1985.” But the repeated listens will pay off big time as you acquire familiarity with the insanely great ambition of this ultimately successful track. My favorite parts are when Haken goes into King Crimson mode and does that time travel trick back to the 80s again for me.
Then comes “Earthrise” which is just a flat-out beautiful song, totally uplifting and inspirational, with a Sigur Ros-like “blast off to Mars now” vibe. From the beginning of the album to the end of “Earthrise,” 40 minutes have elapsed and the amazing richness of the music supplies you with more than enough mull over. For the longest time, I simply couldn’t listen any further, since I was overwhelmed by the sonic abundance of everything from “Initiate” to “Earthrise.”
But then after awhile I was able to add the last three tracks to my full listening experience of Affinity. “Red Giant,” “The Endless Knot,” and “Bound By Gravity” are all fantastic and full of delights. In total, they give you an extra 22 minus of music. But I still think of Affinity as one vinyl LP (everything up to “Earthrise”) plus one vinyl EP (the last three tracks). Sometimes I have time to listen to the LP; sometimes to both the LP and the EP. Either way, I consider it a testament to Haken’s retro-transmogrifying brilliance that they have me thinking with my 1980s brain in the very terms of vinyl time-logic!
If I had to register any complaint, it would only be with the record company’s idea of having a CD release of two discs: one CD containing the regular version of Affinity, another CD with instrumental-only tracks. Who the hell would ever want to listen to instrumental-only tracks? The people who do karaoke aren’t doing it to Haken, so I just do not see the point. For me, because the vocals and lyrics on this album are such soaring perfection, I consider it a desecration to remove them.
A better idea would be for the record company to include a 40-minute version copy of the album (everything up to “Earthrise”) on a second CD that looks like a mini vinyl record, to give away to friends. Then that friend would eventually be inspired to buy their own version, to get the full 60+ minutes experience, and to give away the smaller version to another friend, and so on. That would make so much more sense than having a wasteful second disc that you will only listen to once or twice at most. This second CD could even have a picture of a 3.5 floppy disc on it. And the CD case itself for both discs could be made to look like a 5.25 floppy disc. Okay, I will stop now with the crazy ideas from my 80s brain! But again, I credit Haken for causing my mind to time travel in such a joyful manner.
This stunning album is one of the best of the year. See you back in 1985, dudes! Back to the future. Five stars.