Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Backward Glance On A Travel Road - S/T

In the United States of America, we seem to have this terrible knack for crushing anything with any cultural relevance. I don’t think that most people do it voluntarily, but there’s an initial negative or resistant reaction towards anything that comes across as different. Case in point . . . foreign films. Relatively few people actually go to the independent cinemas to bask in the glow of the silver screen and happily read the sub titles. Those who do revel in the majesty of the art of the moving picture, the cinematography, the story telling without the use of dialogue. Yet, these same people are the butt of many a joke for being culturally open minded and proud to wield their intellect. Now, I’ve never been one to sit through a foreign film, but truth be told . . . I can’t quiet my mind long enough to really enjoy any film, but I can appreciate the work that goes behind the creation of visual arts. However, I can stare at a vibrantly colored painting for hours, transfixed by the emotions, mesmerized by the story being told. And, I apparently can also sit in a darkened car listening to a piece of music that can pull the same emotional hocus pocus.

Recently, I received a copy of A Backward Glance on a Travel Road’s self titled and as of yet unreleased album, and found myself feeling like I was watching one of these foreign films. As I stared out the window of my car, album playing at the highest possible volume, I watched the city lights come to life and the music acted as a soundtrack to my deepest, darkest thoughts. Being that ABGOATR is the side project of Hypno5e multi-instrumentalist Emmanuel Jessua and drummer Thibault Lamy, I somewhat expected this music to be the ever intense, progressive metal experience that Hypno5e did so well. Man, was I ever mistaken! Though just as sonically enthralling, ABGOATR is a pure emotional rollercoaster of atmospheric passages, neo-classic compositions, and ambient soundscapes. In other words, there are no metal tendencies here. But, that’s not to say that the music isn’t heavy, it’s just more of an emotional heaviness. This is the kind of stuff that forces you to take stock of your life and see just where you went wrong, yet feeding you with enough hope to pick yourself up to live life to the greatest success.

The album opens with the psychotic soundings of “Regular Barbary” and within the first minute I knew that this album was going to take my mind in places it had never been to before. Rich acoustic passages are used as a foundation for a French narrative, all while lurking in the background we can hear the other instruments subtly ease their way into the mix. Heavy bursts of sound burst like fireworks in a clear sky over the somber musical passages, the atmospheric pieces lilt across the mind’s eye teleporting the listener to some barren landscape overrun by memories of loss. This song is an epic heart wrenching affair filled with beautiful vocal melodies and massive movements of sound. The multi note portions and off time accents give the song a manic feel, at least initially, and then the song drifts into the ebbs and flows of ceaselessly ending waves of sound.

“Falling” picks up where the last song left off, those waves of sound suddenly morphing into one huge wave of ambient synthesizers that builds upon itself, constantly threatening to destroy the shoreline. The acoustic guitar plucking notes in the mix of synthesizers creates a nice mood, and the female vocals send it over the top. Those vocals are so damned majestic and angelic! Jessua’s vocals add a somber mood to the track in the way the melody rises and falls, touching every emotional nerve on its path. The bass line rumbles softly in the back of the mix while the female vocals chant away, building this massive wall of tension before breaking down to allow the acoustic guitars to chime. My God this is an epic song! So sad in its evocation, but laced with glimmers of hope.

My favorite piece on this album is “Johnny Got His Gun,” based on and using samples from the movie of the same name. The tale has always frightened the hell out me, and Jessua’s adaptation into music makes the whole scenario even more horrifying. Imagine if you will, waking one morning with no arms, no legs, no voice, no sight, no ability to communicate except by banging your head against a pillow in Morse code, being trapped within yourself and not being allowed to die. Man, fuck that! This song captures so much of that essence with the arpeggio plucked away on the acoustic, the bass line weaving through the chanting and operatic vocals, and ultimately with the movie samples timed to accent the music and vice versa. The song takes a bit of an unexpected upbeat turn midway through with an incredibly groovy rhythm that carries on into the movie samples. The entire composition is masterful and upon dissecting this song, and knowing a bit about the background of the musicians involved, it’s increasingly apparent how much the visual arts stimulate their creativity. Excuse me . . . I have to listen to that one again.

“In Absentia, Part I & II” are musical treats that feature a little electric guitar for more of the textural aspects of the pieces, phenomenal acoustic guitar work, walls of synthesizers, rhythms that push the songs without forcing them, and richly melodic vocals. The acoustic guitars give Part I an organic feel, from the finger picked arpeggio’s to the full on open strummed chords, the song could fit well within Steve Wilson’s satchel of tricks. As Part II unwinds, the haunting melodies soar and tears the emotions wide open so that every experience can be felt to the highest potential. Again, the rhythm section of the performance works together like a symbiotic being, filling the song with a touch of warmth over the chillier aspects of the acoustic guitars and sorrowful vocals. The female vocals at the end of the song make this opus feel like a score brought to us from any number of the classical greats. Feel the movement of the music as all of the instruments work in harmony with one another, building note after note to the point that the emotion just wants to break. Brilliant composition!

The music touches the nerves in so many different ways, exciting one minute, saddening the next, building moments of hope and elation, terrifying the soul a heartbeat later. A Backward Glance on a Travel Road is an experience that I urge you all to be a part of. The album is a musical masterpiece and an epic journey through life we’ve led or are about to lead. External stimuli aren’t necessary to feel the full impact of this recording, and honestly, I can’t say if it would enhance the experience or not. I just know how it both moved me and mellowed me out, calming my manic thoughts, excited me and made me eager to face life’s next greatest challenge. I’m considering a trip to the local independent cinema to take in some more culture, especially if it’s going to have this type of affect on me. - Pope JTE

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