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Cosmograf - The Unreasonable Silence album review

Complex concept album fuses force and philosophising.

Just your regular “existential concept album” inspired by the Albert Camus essay The Myth Of Sisyphus, this record concerns an English software engineer working in Iowa who, amid a morass of paranoia, starts to lose his marbles and reckons aliens are coming to get him. What, it ponders, is the meaning and purpose of our existence upon this hostile planet? Also, the guitar solos are really cool.

Like a series of The X Files, only without the sexual tension.

Cosmograf is the prog handle of Robin Armstrong, who has released five albums under the name since 2009. He plays many instruments and records (mostly) in a studio at the bottom of his garden. This time he’s joined by respected guests Nick Beggs on bass and Big Big Train’s Nick D’Virgilio on drums, plus Spock’s Beard’s Dave Meros and vocalist Rachael Hawnt. There’s also a stream of spoken-word snippets and sound effects weaving in and out, fanning up the mildly unsettling and unapologetically serious atmosphere. It’s like immersing yourself in a series of The X Files, only without the unresolved sexual tension. Armstrong’s ambition is to take one giant leap into the heart of the contemporary concept album.

Thus it slopes broodily in, throbbing synths backing languid Gilmour-like licks and a low-voiced narrator describing Sisyphus’ trials and torments. Then we’re into the nine-minute surge of This Film Might Change Your Life, which oscillates wildly from power chord rock tropes and shredding solos to piano-tinkling tranquillity, Moroder-like burblings and strange, indecipherable growled mutterings. It’s a template for the rest of the album, which loves its contrasts between highs and lows. Often it’s like being trapped, Tron-like, in a computer game, which presumably is how the head of our protagonist, staring at his laptop, feels. Phone messages are left for him by worried therapists and girlfriends. The listener feels a little like a voyeur.

The Unreasonable Silence catches some elements of the neo‑prog vein mastered in recent years by Steven Wilson. Which is not to say it matches such consummate, easy‑flowing diversity, but in its best moments it’s touching on that terrain. There’s a constant dichotomy between the bleeping, flickering effects and the more traditional rock band format. The marriage sometimes sounds forced, but when it works, it’s inventive and visceral.

Four Wall Euphoria manages a dynamic switch-and-bait, but the epic finale of the title track is undoubtedly the highlight. It builds into a full-on Floyd-like flight of guitar solos, complete with Clare Torry-style vocal testifying. He’s got that boulder to the top of the hill.