Cosmograf is one of those projects that I’ve been reviewing for quite some time now. I assumed at some point that I would have to start saying things about the music “being in a rut” or “starting to lack inspiration”, but that just hasn’t happened yet. The new album is called “Rattrapante”, and it releases on March 26th. Though I won’t say this is Cosmograf’s best album yet, I will say that this might be his most interesting record to date.
Cosmograf is the solo project of Robin Armstrong. He’s been making albums under this name since 2009 or so, and he has yet to produce an album that is mediocre. Sure, there are albums I like more than others, but the quality is always there. On this particular record, Robin takes care of vocals, guitars, keyboards, and bass, while Chrissy Mostyn (of The Black Heart Orchestra) guests on vocals, Kyle Fenton handles drums and some backing vocals, and Tommy McNally offers some spoken word on one track (one of my favorite parts of the album).
Robin has thus far written from many perspectives, communicating deep truths through metaphorical stories. I always enjoy his lyrics for their insight, humanity, and complete devotion to their theme. For “Rattrapante”, the theme is time and how humans interact with it, fight it, and often seem to beat it through their legacy and legend. The message is potent, for sure, though I would be dishonest if I didn’t mention that the lyrics feel a bit weaker on this record, sometimes feeling like they are being squeezed into melodies that they simply don’t fit, or slang-level wording that I don’t normally expect from this project. Still, the message gets across, and I find it captivating.
When I said that this might be Robin’s most “interesting” album yet, that is primarily due to the music. Cosmograf is typically a Floydian-leaning blend of prog rock with a hefty dose of electronic accents. And, while the Floydian sound can be detected here (especially the very beginning of the record), the sound seems to shift towards a classic rock sound, even possibly an ode to hair metal or at least the rock of the 70s and 80s. One of the stories on this album concerns an aging rock star, as far as I can tell, and so I think that might have something to do with the shift in sound. For what it is worth, I think Robin nails this change perfectly while making it sound exciting and fresh.
The best example of this is the opener “In 1985”. The song sounds like an arena concert in the 80s from, say, Journey. It has that quality, and seems to explore the idea of a person who has devoted their entire life to the pursuit of fame, but now that person is fading. They aren’t as young or vibrant as they once were. The song itself mimics the rock theatrics we are all used to seeing, and the chorus has wormed its way into my brain for good. Yet, there is a point in the second half when the keys take over to create a building, anticipatory atmosphere, and soon an incredibly nostalgic groove emerges with soaring guitar work soon to follow. The song just knows how to hit all of those familiar buttons, if you know what I mean.
The title track follows, and is similar in tone. With the rocking gallop and the Hammond atmosphere, the song feels like both an ode and a caution to the prog rock of old. Now, the album only has five songs, but is still 53 minutes long. “I Stick to You” is the shortest song at just under 7 minutes in length, and I assume that is why it was released as a single. This is the song with Chrissy on vocals, and her haunting, ethereal vocals add such a fantastic texture, not to mention a counterweight to Robin’s mature voice.
The last two songs are “Memories Lie” and “Time Will Flow”. The former feels like an expository, classic song with various sections of guitar work. I think this track has my favorite lyrics on the record. Now, “Time Will Flow” is a remarkable 12-minute song. Robin doesn’t sing on it until it is more than half over, and that is because Tommy comes in with his hefty Irish accent, pining and philosophizing. I absolutely love that portion, though I’m a sucker for songs that successfully incorporate spoken word to meaningful effect. The song explodes from there with Robin firing on all cylinders, and I love the way the song fades to close the album.
“Rattrapante” isn’t the strongest album in Cosmograf’s impressive discography, but it is definitely a rock solid effort that might have some of my favorite Cosmograf moments sprinkled throughout the runtime. I initially would have placed this album with “Capacitor” and “The Hay-Man Dreams” (albums I don’t visit very often), but I honestly think this album will end up being played more than those two. In fact, I feel like this album is going to grow on me in a huge way as the year progresses. This album is basically in a category all its own for Cosmograf, and I applaud Robin for stepping out and diving completely into the sound he wanted to create.
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