Thank you. Thank you for making this!! I was so bored with music. I was so sick of listening to the same thing over and over again. Then I found The Gabriel Construct’s (Gabriel Riccio) debut album Interior City. Not only does this cohere perfectly with what I think art should be, but it is exactly the type of album I’m planning on making some day (darn you PhD dissertation, why do you take up so much of my time?).
Here’s my philosophy of art. There are those people who make really abstract and difficult things which make us question what art is. I’m thinking about Boulez and Babbitt with their total serialism. This stuff is cool and expands our ear, but it is a purely formal exercise and doesn’t have much content (even the experimental Ligeti rejected Boulez’s Structures Ia). Think of Duchamp’s “Fountain.” These formal exercises are an incredibly important process to keep progress, but I believe we should keep in mind that it is on one extreme of the spectrum.
The other extreme is stuff that is so easily digestible and simple (re: popular) that we also question whether or not it can be considered art. In some sense, it is all raw content. It doesn’t require much skill to produce. There is a spectrum here, and to me all great art should figure out how to strike a balance. You draw on the abstraction and difficulty end of the one spectrum, but you still have meaningful and moving content. If you want to be truly great, then your balance should be such that the difficulty is there to enhance the content and not just for the sake of being difficult.
In the metal world, I’d say a band like Behold… the Arctopus is on the difficulty extreme. It is cool and worth listening to, but it really doesn’t move me or anything. It is difficult for the sake of being difficult. Interior City on the other hand is dense and difficult, but also really moving. It strikes the balance I referred to perfectly. The denseness is not arbitrary. These songs are really beautifully constructed and drawing from all sorts of interesting places for the techniques.
Usually at this point I’d say something about Barth’s essay “The Literature of Exhaustion,” but that was a pretty long intro, so let’s get to the album itself. The first track is a dark, brooding, slow vocal piece. It really sets the stage for the concept nicely. Gabriel claims it was inspired by wondering what would happen if George Crumb was a singer-songwriter. I see the Crumb in the extended technique of playing on the strings of the piano, but I really hear Morton Feldman in terms of mood, tonality, and speed. Crumb, to me, has a lot of intensity, speed, and complexity. Feldman is very slow and sparse like this piece.
The whole album coheres, and we are led into the next track almost as if the first didn’t end. Right at the moment of describing the main character’s fantasy of escaping the scary world of the first song this song explodes on cue into a crazy polyphony based around this sort of fun rock-dance motif. It works perfectly. The escape should be a pleasant internal way of getting out of the cold world, but the deeper we go, the more twisted we realize this interior city is. The 4/4 rock motif continues, but other parts are playing in other time signatures. More instruments keep layering and we start getting quotes from all over including Massiaen and Bartok. Wonderful stuff perfectly reflecting the lyrics.
We then move on to what is probably the most straightforward song on the album, and wow is it creepy. It is mostly piano and voice that steadily builds in complexity. The song is about fearing all these environmental toxic contaminants. There’s talk of sickness, tumors, vomiting, and death. The deep voice describing these things is a great mood setter. Roughly half way through it builds all the way up to something that could be called post-rock with lots of noise. The vocal harmonies are fantastic at the climax. There is this really crazy dense sound in the background. It sounds like just holding down tons of keys on an organ to me. I can’t quite figure out what is actually being done.
Then we move on to a song about conspiracy theories and alien abductions. There are the obvious ones like government cover-up of aliens and the reptile shape-shifter one. I love that he starts with “Noah’s Ark” because many people don’t think of this as a conspiracy theory. All you have to do is go to creationist websites to learn differently. Supposedly scientists are in some crazy conspiracy to hide the truth of Noah’s Ark. This song has a wonderful atmosphere to it, and even before I listened to the lyrics I thought of sci-fi movie soundtracks with the synths and altered iii, and vi harmonic progression. The vocals are layered to sound like a classic tv alien voice too.
In order to not make this go on too long, I’ll just say that this is exactly half of the album. The rest continues on similarly, but gets even better! Seriously, I think the second half is better, but this would already be a great album if it cut off here. Overall, I think the band that most closely resembles this style is Time of Orchids. They also used a rock baseline to create something totally original with thoroughly composed music in which themes and motifs are properly developed.
It is extremely rare that I encounter an album that totally engrosses me in the sense that I can just sit and listen to it with nothing else. In fact, it compels me to do this. Usually I read things, surf the net, blog, type up notes, cook, clean, or whatever while listening to music. It feels like a waste to do nothing else when I have so many of my senses free. This album I can listen to over and over, and I usually have to quit what I’m doing to devote my full attention to it.
Overall, I foresee this being the album of the year for me. I give it a 10/10. Spoiler alert: I’m posting as a sample the last song, and this album is a whole album experience, so go listen to the whole thing if you don’t want to hear the last track first. I just couldn’t resist because this song encapsulates what I wrote so perfectly. And the moment at 7:32 is my favorite of the album. The sudden burst of the cluster chord vocals that enter so cleanly and then expand out into a more traditional voice leading climax. It is magnificent. Go listen! Many times!