I have been following Robin Armstrong’s Cosmograf since 2013’s “The Man Left in Space”. That album was a masterpiece of ethereal, spacey vibes and thought-provoking meaning. Robin has been pretty consistent since then, producing two more albums, including this new one, “The Unreasonable Silence”. While I still consider “The Man Left in Space” to be a masterpiece, I can’t help but feel like this new album has an advantage over that album: personality.
Robin Armstrong hails from the United Kingdom. Cosmograf is more or less a solo project, though many performers help out along the way. Robin handles most of the instrumental work on “The Unreasonable Silence”, but he also managed to get some pretty high profile guests on here, too, such as Nick D’Virgilio and Nick Beggs. Additionally, there are several voice actors involved here because, as usual, “The Unreasonable Silence” tells a story Hibernal-style, while Robin also sings.
The primary style here is akin to neo-prog with some heavy prog trappings, meaning that we get a little Porcupine Tree mixed in with Marillion or IQ. That’s the foundational style, but Robin goes outside the box quite often, mixing sci-fi stylings, cinematic moods, a bit of classic rock, and even a little pop into the formula.
Since I mentioned the story, let’s go into that a bit. The story revolves around a man who is increasingly unsure of his place and purpose in this mundane world. As far as I can tell, this uneasiness results from an epiphany granted him by an extraterrestrial being that he meets in a field one night. As he becomes more and more detached from reality and from his family and friends, he starts to look to the stars as an otherworldly destiny for himself. While this is definitely a sci-fi story, it also touches on important themes, such as societal conformity, the purpose of life, and paranoia. It’s definitely a strong one, too, so I don’t want to spoil it. Of note, also, is the great atmosphere and word pictures that Robin uses, so this story really plays out in your mind.
One of the first things I noticed about this album is the abundance of personality that Robin displays this time. While “The Man Left in Space” was sci-fi and cold, this album feels very grey and mysterious. While “Capacitor” was psychedelic and crackling with life, this album feels detached and freaky. Yes, freaky. Robin goes outside the boundaries I’ve heard from him by crafting some crazy choruses and some wild verses here and there, such as on “The Plastic Men” or especially “Arcade Machine”. The album is also definitely his most varied in style, featuring quiet moments, emotional solos, macabre shades, choirs, and a certain conflicted playfulness I didn’t expect.
Another thing I noticed was that the music and the story match perfectly. There are definitely shades of Porcupine Tree’s “Fear of a Blank Planet” here, as the wistful, blue feeling of the music connects directly with the seclusion and breakdown of the protagonist. Once he has a taste of another world, he slowly digs a deeper and deeper hole; blowing off friends and family, purposefully sabotaging his place of employment, and languishing in his apartment. He is ever focused on the purposeless existence of those around him, and, instead of heading out to search for meaning, he sort of wastes away in his pitiful reality. The music, then, has a fluttery vibe at first with lots of piano passages. As the story progresses, this incessant drone begins to develop that eventually leads to heavier guitar work, such as on “The Uniform World”. It’s like there is this building of pressure throughout the album, as the protagonist slowly implodes. The album isn’t measured by beats or technical wizardry so much as it is paced out by deleted voicemails and silent determinations.
All of this plays out in great songs. From the storytelling of the first couple tracks to the wilder and even ominous tracks like “Arcade Machine”, the album gets rolling at a great pace with addictive choruses and solos. My favorite track has to be “The Uniform Road”, though, and its heavier sound, which is something I hadn’t heard from Robin in the past. The last few tracks pass by very quickly, as the story arc begins to end and a more ethereal sound begins.
Probably the most brilliant part about “The Unreasonable Silence” is that, while it is dark and dreary, it actually contains a hopeful and motivational message. Robin is using this very interesting story as a call to action for us to live our lives with purpose and gusto, not as robots conforming to the norm. This message is pretty clear in the more triumph sound of the title track, which, for some reason, reminds me of the title track to Riversea’s “Out of an Ancient World” (one of my favorite albums ever): It’s not necessarily the sound as much as the melodic arc that sounds so nostalgic to me. Anyways, this album certainly portrays its message well with a variety of styles and moods, not to mention beautiful compositions. In my opinion, Robin has outdone all his other albums to date.
Find Cosmograf online at:
Pingback: TPM Top 25 Albums of 2016 | The PROG Mind·