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Thursday, September 20, 2007

ContraNova: "Infinity In All Directions"

The concept album is a very difficult thing to pull off. The idea of taking a story or idea and writing an entire album based on it is awesome in theory, but hardly ever gets done right. Many artists will take all their songs, loosely piece them together with a vague theme, and call it a concept album. Others (*cough* Mars Volta) will write an album whose lyrics are so nonsensical that it's difficult to decipher what the hell is going on, so they leave it up to you to piece it all together. It's because of these poor examples that I'm generally turned off to the idea of concept albums. That's where ContraNova comes in. The brainchild of Sean Craypo of Austin, Texas, "Infinity In All Directions" tells the story of a man who travels back in time ten years to revisit his old self and must deal with the consequences of his actions. In doing so, the album takes an incredibly unique, inventive look at old themes (love, loss, fate, etc.) and sets itself apart as one of the more impressive albums I've heard all year!

One of the great things about "Infinity In All Directions" is that it plays out like reading a book or watching a movie. The liner notes of the album come complete with lyrics and a brief explanation of what the song is about and what role it plays in the story. It's a great help when trying to unravel the tale. The story begins as our hero builds a time machine and decides to travel back in time 10 years, but in doing so he unwillingly leaves behind a life that he is happy with, and more importantly, a girlfriend named Andeline whom he loves dearly. Almost immediately after arriving in the past, he comes to the realization that the only way to get back to his future life is to relive the past 10 years of his life over again. The album chronicles his journey and the difficulties that come with it.

In writing, the story of "Infinity In All Directions" is very cool and gripping. The biggest hurdle to overcome is translating that story into an equally gripping album. But ContraNova does so flawlessly. The group masters a wide array of sounds on the album, ranging from Belle and Sebastian-esque chamber pop to solemn acoustic songs in the vein of Sun Kil Moon or Elliott Smith. Craypo's lyrics are haunting and earnest, and he sings them with such conviction that you would think he transforms himself into the album's protagonist at the start of every song. When he sings of Andeline, "As you become more opaque, I pray that I can make the same mistakes," it's as if he feels the pain of separation and the longing to recapture his love, himself. While his voice may not be as polished as other artists, it's hard not to become entranced by his execution.

In fact, it is Craypo's flawless execution that ultimately raises the album above the average and mundane. A lot of the songs on "Infinity In All Directions" are missing a definite structure or standard verse/chorus setup, and at times it can be difficult to follow. Also, percussion instruments are notably absent for the majority of the album, and the most we ever get is a hand clap or shaker here and there. In an album that features bassoon, trombone, guitar, harp, banjo, and even contrabassoon (which sounds great, by the way), it's a little surprising to not hear a more substantial role played by percussion instruments. In the end, however, these are all minor annoyances that are quickly swept aside when you really start to get into the album. My only major complaint with "Infinity In All Directions" is the song "Revolution 10 (Sound Collage #1)," an instrumental medley of songs performed by a variety of instruments. At over 7 minutes long, it is a major distraction in the album, especially since it comes at a pivotal moment in the story. It is not bad by any means, just jarring and seemingly inconsequential.

The first time I finished listening to "Infinity In All Directions," I had that same feeling I get when I finish a powerful movie or book; like I am just seeing everything for the first time, like I am finally alive. ContraNova has created a masterpiece beyond comparison, and a truly affecting piece of art. Captured in it's 53 minutes are exceptional musicianship, unparalleled lyricism, and beautiful, captivating storytelling. It is rare that an album contains such magic, but "Infinity In All Directions" is absolutely brilliant from almost every aspect imaginable. It is one of those few works that everyone should hear, and one that needs to be listened to in it's entirety to be fully appreciated. I will not be forgetting "Infinity In All Directions" any time soon, and that is something that I am thrilled to say.

Recommended for fans of Elliott Smith, Sun Kil Moon, and Sufjan Stevens.

Key Tracks:
1. "Slanted Light (My Mother Wakes Me)"
2. "Same Side of the Day"
3. "Avalanche of Days"
4. "In Disguise"
5. "Andeline"

9 out of 10 Stars
Buy "Infinity In All Directions" at

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