“The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved,
but a reality to be experienced.”
I feel like I’ve been giving a bunch of high scores this year, although there have been plenty of albums I’ve disliked, too. Inside Out Music is especially killing it this year, with release after release of truly stellar music. The sophomore release from John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot is yet another stunning album from this label this year. You may remember that I loved the debut something fierce, but “The Big Dream” may have exceeded it in many ways.
John Mitchell, of Frost*, It Bites, and Arena, is the mastermind here. Utilizing the ever-amazing Craig Blundell on drums, John provides literally everything else on this album. Yes, he provides vocals, guitars, bass, and keyboards for the whole album. Stylistically, this project is modern progressive rock that is often hard to pigeonhole into one genre. Sure, John is obviously influenced by Pink Floyd and he definitely has one foot in the pop scene. However, this album rises above genre and style due to its themes and the execution of those ideas.
In yet another deep album, the lyrics on “The Big Dream” concern the afterlife; where we are going and what it’s like to transition to another form of existence. The album contains voiceovers from a philosopher who discusses the similarities between sleep and death. It’s all rather deep and thought-provoking, especially in the context of how this impending “big dream” would cause us to live everyday life differently. So, while “Please Come Home” discussed greater, more expansive concepts about God, the universe, and humanity; “The Big Dream” discusses the far more personal concept of death and the inevitability of it.
As a result of this shift in scale, the music has a different focus. While the debut felt spacey and interstellar in tone, “The Big Dream” feels much more like a journey inside, featuring all the surreal and dreamy moments you’d expect, and even some you wouldn’t. What remains the same, though, is that feeling of longing that pervaded the debut. Yes, the search for answers continues here, just as passionately as ever. Lonely Robot is full of the spirit of exploration and a passion for truth.
In a way, “The Big Dream” is a much more tightly constructed album than the debut, though. It has a definite beginning that sets the context, but it also has a definite ending that looks back on what we have learned. Through the middle, too, there is a definite arc of learning and a delving into the unknown that do not just drop into the deep end from the start. There is a gentle, professional curve to what John has to say here. “The Big Dream” is masterfully crafted in this way.
You are in for a treat when it comes to the performances on this album. John’s voice is stellar and personal as ever, but it’s his keys and guitars that really stand out here. John is most known for his guitars, obviously, and they are a real highlight here, with tons of emotional solos and eerie licks. I do find that the guitars purposefully do not dominate the album because this album and its theme are something bigger than the sum of its parts. All of the instruments serve a greater purpose here: to illicit emotions and thoughts surrounding the central concept. The keys are a perfect example of this. I absolutely love the keys on this album. They are really the driving force behind many of the most climatically beautiful moments on the album, such as “False Lights” or “Epilogue”. The delicate, yet haunting style is perfect for the dreamy effect this album requires.
Concerning songs, the second half of the album is the strongest half, and there are moments here that eclipse your very soul. While I really enjoy the first half for songs like “Sigma” or “Everglow”, the album really takes the philosophical plunge starting with the phenomenal “False Lights”, and it just doesn’t seem to come up for air for the rest of the album. I do love “Sigma”, a song with a wonderful chorus and a layer of female vocals, but it’s the floating instrumental near the end that really elevates this song into the depths of the human heart. I also love “Everglow”, a song that gets more complex every time I hear it.
My favorite songs are definitely in the second half, though. My favorite is definitely “False Lights”, a truly immense song of wonder that climaxes into this huge emotional upwelling. Other favorites are “Epilogue (Sea Beam)”, a dreamy track of melody and otherworldliness that offers you a glimpse at eternity; “Symbolic” for having my favorite chorus on the album; and the title track for being a very dark, almost brooding instrumental song with lots of chilling keys and high octave guitars. The title track has this amniotic effect to it, like a quiet look inside yourself while you hang in this blurred tranquility.
Overall, John has really knocked this one of out of the park. “The Big Dream” is an album that may feel a little hazy on first listen. It doesn’t necessarily have the catchiest of choruses or the instant gratification some people want. However, you will find it growing on you more and more, and you’ll find that its deep and expansive themes will suck you in more each time you decide play it. It truly is an invitation to taking a plunge into the sea of light right beneath your feet.