Let me start off by saying this – you are not smart enough to understand this album for all that it is. I am not smart enough, and I consider myself somewhat intelligent. This is an album that is conceptual, witty, dark and pithy (check out that rhyme scheme…). Thematic and progressive, this is a project that makes me glad Portland’s Rob Dietrich is sticking to music and not hatching plans for world domination with his evil-mastermind brain.
That being said, it is not un-enjoyable in mere mortal terms. It’s like how Pete Townsend’s “Lifehouse” project became the Who’s Next record – the concept is consistent throughout the project but really shines through in a couple of particular pieces.
First off, according to the liner notes (conveniently available on his web page! Good man! Is there no limit to this man’s brilliance?!), “This work is an exploration of how the mind might construct a schema to understand the world.” For a guy who spent twelve minutes debating the merits of Dave Grohl’s beard yesterday, this already seems heavy… Despite the obvious gap in the depths of our philosophical musings, I find this album engaging the whole way through.
Some fantastic beauty and song-crafting early on in the song “Shields” which, in part, is described in the liner notes thusly: “As the conscious mind recognizes its estrangement from its own underlying brain functions, the individual’s sense of identity is meaningfully challenged for the first time” Um… Yeah, that and it has some cool parts where the guitar goes “plinka” and “woogle” a lot…
Seriously though, this song is such a great example of what I’m talking about. It could find a place alongside any number of great radio hits, with some masterful uses of dynamics, from bass-driven verses building to a soaring chorus and bridge section and finishing again on that haunting “big empty room” kind of feel.
Later in the album, we see the song “Window” that has a very distinct futuristic and spacey feel to it, and I’m frankly afraid to see what subtext I was too dumb to pick up… let’s go to the liner notes… “The struggle to reconcile this desirably sunny outlook with empirical observations of the world is the focus of Window, an apology for the continued existence of mythical thought.” Dang… Well, I feel like a monkey. An ape really, smart enough to interact but not about to recite T.S. Elliot.
I’m fascinated at the complexity of such an undertaking. There are some great tracks on this album that make it well worth giving it a couple spins. “Future Perfect” in particular has such cool poly rhythms and fantastic synth work layered throughout, it’s hard not to think of great prog-rock bands like Rush and Yes. On the other hand, the song “Shone” has sections that are almost reverent and gorgeous, but a middle section with a guitar solo that just bleeds and screams emotion.
A word about the musicianship on this album; It’s great. It’s balanced – there are times when the talent and skill is so obviously there and I caught myself going back several times to catch a solo or a great bass line. But the real brilliance is in the subtlety, with no instruments competing and each accenting at just the right times. Really, the composition, regardless of the depth of lyrical brilliance there is, is the all-around force on this album. If you get the chance, it’s worth the listen, and if I’m ever in the same town as Rob Dietrich, I’m buying that guy a beer so he can lay some smart-guy wisdom on me.