Richard Poulin 15-April-2008 Revolution's Son

Tobin: vocals; keyboards; B3
Twøn: lead vocals; bass; acoustic guitar
Darren Chapman: guitars
Bob Piper: guitars
Tadashi Togawa: guitars
Rob Thurman: drums

What almost killed progressive rock 30-35 years ago were self-indulgent excesses like Yes’ ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ or just sheer lack of inspiration like with ELP’s ‘On the Beach’ or Gentle Giant’s ‘Giant For A Day’, just to name a few, after almost a decade of a glorious, free-wheeling golden age of awe-inspiring music that was drawing from all sources. But Audiocracies could well kill the phoenix that is currently blessed in this early 21st century by so many extraordinary creators that are giving back prog a good name, especially in the USA . An Audiocracy is a dictatorial regime imposed on these delicate parts of your cortex that allow you to appreciate music in all its forms. Audiocrats have leather boots with spikes that remind you that they want to occupy your neurons and usurp your own musical tastes. And they have no mercy for silence. Hence their name.

Like Blind Faith, ELP or Asia , Audiocracy is a supergroup, or as they prefer to describe themselves, an ‘international collaborative progressive rock band’. It is in fact a virtual supergroup, and tracks are assembled part by part from files by the various supermembers. On paper, the fact that it was founded by composer and musician Tobin Mueller, a guy who played with Dave Brubeck and Maynard Ferguson among many others, commands one’s attention. The other supermembers are all veterans of the progressive rock realm (for details, see: Audiocracy). No newcomers here. As usual, the disappointment can be proportional to the expectations, especially when large doses of hype add up to it. ‘Masterpiece’ is a word that unfortunately suffers terribly from verbal inflation, and ‘Revolution’s Son’, Audiocracy’s first album, is a case in point.

According to their label, Lost Records, this is no less than a ‘masterpiece of the epic prog tradition’. We are warned. Because I cherish the prog genre and I think it is still part of our collective hope for accessing excellence in music, I feel sorry that such aberrations still find their way to us. As a music lover and collector, I must first say that I seldom felt myself so violently aggressed by any music, and this is not because it’s especially heavy, rather on the contrary. In fact, I definitively love heaviness and like metal prog (I enjoy Meshuggah, to give you a telling indication). No, this is unbelievably violent by its sheer degree of shocking annoyance. Once the record starts, you are in for a full-fledged aggression of your senses, and this is all because of the deadly combination of unbelievably tasteless vocals and keyboards so cheesy they smell. And I am still wondering how such a disaster could happen in the first place.

As the first track of the epic begins (‘The Dream: Revolution’s Son’), you already start to worry seriously about Twøn, the lead vocalist. Another lesson: beware of a singer with a mere four-letter word as a name (sorry, Pink, sorry Fish....) This guy has sinus cavities the size of the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky . I find it hard to find a worst, most despicable timbre, and when he dares insisting with the lyrics ‘repeat, repeat, repeat....’, you are compelled to react to yourself with a ‘ will you shut ... up, man????’ To me, Derek Shurman will now sound like Nat King Cole if compared with Twøn’s attempts at trepanning your brain while you are shell-shocked by his catastrophic performance. Maybe this was meant as some form of self-esteem therapy: ‘People say that you can’t sing, Twøn? Don’t listen to them, Twøn: listen to yourself, and believe in yourself. Go ahead and shout the hell out of your pipes. You are the Farinelli of prog’. And this is so self-consciously progressive, because it is meant as the ultimate progressive supergroup. Therefore, all the best that classical prog had to offer back in the Golden Age is there like in a superdooper milkshake for Prog Rambo: the overdubbed harmonies a la Yes, Gentle Giant’s dissonances, bombastic keyboards a la ELP, dramatic accents a la Peter Gabriel, just name it and it’s there, all tumbled up in one amorphous blob of a sound wall so thick you it will frost your brain with aural shellac. You feel completely surrounded, but this is not ambient music: this is battery acid. You’re another prey for the Audiocrats....The pervasive, monotonous, cacophonic delivery, insistent to the point of dizzying your brain, lampoons you and you can’t believe it is happening. Sounds like a Simon LeBon with the avian flu. One gets the impression that tracks have been overlaid ad infinitum, a bit like what Frank Zappa had done with ‘You Are What You Is’. You know, the same blasting vocals, the same ‘fullness’ of sound because Frank had overdubbed the vocals like crazy, experimenting in his studio to reach some sort of a new form of hyperdense sonic matter meant to totally envelop the listener with the most complex texture made possible by the then available technology. And the result is a bit similar (listen to the title song or to ‘Charlie’s Enormous Mouth’ and you will get a good idea of the type of green molasses-like sound waves that crash on the shores of your eardrums). There is a certain similarity too in the final effect of the music: it is so dense that you can’t see through. One gets the annoying sensation of being flooded by sounds of dubious aesthetics and to drown in them. Scary.... In any music, the silent parts are just as important as the actual sound waves. That’s what gives you the drama, the emotion, in a word: the music. Everybody knows that pauses will often decide of the final impression a composition will have on you. No need to even mention? You’re right. And yet, such things get ignored, even by experienced composers/performers..... You long for the moment when the furious attack will stop for a nanosecond, but no, it won’t happen. You’re doing the Pickett’s Charge, and Twøn detonates his deadly proselytizing lyrics on you from the vantage point of Cemetery Ridge. And I have not talked about the drum machine programming yet. Oh well, in another life, maybe...

When you start hoping it can’t get worse than that, you are proved wrong (Track 3: The Underground) with cheesy, flashy keyboards, the type that plagued the ‘80s so badly, like you thought you would never hear again in your worst nightmares. Audiocrats must have grown up in hippie families, and were insulated from the music of the ‘80s, otherwise, they would not inflict such predictable riffs to their keyboards and their innocent victims. A little like kids who were always kept away from sweets by their overprotective parents become sugar freaks once they discover them later in their life.... And then vocals worsen to a point it almost becomes funny. Listen for example to the lines: ‘Their food supply, their food supply must end/Reap what you sow’, and ask yourself: Is he bad on purpose? Is this some form of theatrical impersonation of torture? Maybe this is a Passion they intended to write in fact, and perhaps the whole point is that you must carry that sonic cross from hell to their Golgotha to become enlightened. The lyrics somehow support my argument, anyway....

Once you have reached track 4, there is ‘The Confrontation - Speak Truth Into Power’. Vociferation increases in intensity. The war has been openly declared against any of your previous musical references. At this stage, this has got to be the WORST, absolutely worst vocals of the history of music recording. And I am not kidding. It’s one thing to be a singer with impaired technique. One can even manage to ignore a vocalist with limited abilities, as long as he does not sing off key and that the music is top notch. Take Derek Shurman of Gentle Giant’s fame. Many people, including myself, are not too keen about his vocal technique. But..... But he is often joined by better singers (the rest of the band) for sublime harmonies, the music is stellar, and he knows how NOT to go too far in the way of insistence. But it’s a completely different thing to amplify and repeatedly overdub a voice so grating and so unbearable it verges on the point of being pathetic. Audiocracy must be the equivalent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of prog. Once you allow them to reach your ears, they don’t want to leave and they sing to you the last issue of ‘The Watch Tower’. Lucky us...

As I said, assembling such experienced musicians has the potential of greatness. Maybe there is a problem when music is created through collaborative effort, by sheer splicing of digital files created at different places and different points in time. Maybe the fact that the musicians don’t actually perform that music together in a studio can be disastrous because the mutual appreciation and criticism of the work – which should be a viable and living creature instead of that amorphous blob – are lacking. Hence such a disastrous assault on your good taste acquired through long years of tasting, of trial and error, like the best wine connoisseurs....

Oh, by the way, the last track (and the least unbearable) is subtitled: ‘Dare To Sing.’ One thing for sure : these guys sure are well inspired when time comes to find good titles for their tracks.

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