“The Trilogy Is Now Complete”
I have to admit when the A Life Of Science released Vita Nova earlier this year, the second installment of their sci-fi, multi-media, electronica trilogy, I never expected that the trilogy that began with The Apneist in 2009 would be completed and released before this year’s end. It seemed incredibly improbable, with a gap of three years between the first two albums, that the final installment would be delivered only eight months later. You see, long before I knew any of the members of A Life Of Science, much less had become friends with them, I had been secretly stalking their overwhelming concept project online for years, impressed with the unbelievable scope and daunting breadth of this amazing mission they’ve undertaken. Eventually this led to a weekend road trip to Flagstaff and Tempe with A Life Of Science to watch them give two amazing, yet incredibly different shows (The Hotel Monte Vista and The Marquee) within the span of 36 hours that blew my mind. Meanwhile, they got to watch me get kicked out of at least three bars and have a completely amazing time. This project is so enormous that every time I write about it, I get so overwhelmed by the scope of it that it is, well, daunting to say the very least.
Simply said, A Life Of Science is not just a band. They are a concept, one that is expressed in music as well as novels, comic books, videos and even animation—they are very nearly a way of life and now having released the entire trilogy I can’t wonder what may be next. Most recently, the first novel involved with the concept has just been published and it was written by the band’s drummer Josh Isaac (who oddly, was not the drummer when he began writing it). Thus far The Apneist and this year’s Vita Nova have been unheralded, pioneering explorations in ultra-futuristic techno storytelling. Every time I think about the concept it blows my mind and yes, becomes daunting once more, it’s just so good and covers so much media territory that I can hardly wrap my head around it. However, as much as I love the first two albums, I had no idea what was in store on the third and final chapter with Crystal City and within my first three listens of this 35 minute finale, this was instantly my favorite of them all. Can I quantify why? Not exactly. Granted, I’ve been listening to this for nearly two months at this point and the only thing I can come up with on this front is that by the time we arrive at Crystal City, A Life Of Science has come into their own, found their home and define their unique cross-genre sound with both strength and confidence. This is somewhat, and appropriately enough, the reflection of their protagonist Jon Tate’s own story, rising supremely triumphant in the end.
For those unaware or unfamiliar with this amazing visionary tale, concocted by the mad genius who is James Keenan, who is not only brilliant, but genuinely one of my favorite human beings on the planet, here is the low down on the life of our hero, Jon Tate. In The Apneist, we find Jon reflecting on his life as he finds himself drowning and recalling all the event of his life that have led to his untimely and seeming hopeless end. Vita Nova then becomes something of a tale of resurrection, redemption and hope—where memories are converted into the dreams of the future as Jon makes good on the promise invested in him to save the world. Which leads us to Crystal City, a story of reconstruction and rebirth in post-apocalyptic Earth, a story told with electronica in tow and guitars way up front, declaring in the end with brilliant optimism “Our new lives start today!” Indeed. And it is now my favorite of the bunch.
I suppose, whether it was through clever planning or simple musical growth or a little of both, Crystal City simply reaches out to me on multiple levels—the main one though is that it just fucking rocks from beginning to end. I don’t mean this as a metaphor, it literally rocks with loud, fast, aggressive guitars that make my soul sing and it’s much more reflective of A Life of Science’s recent live shows, in which the electronica aspect of their music takes a step back to reveal a rock band at heart. In a way, even this tells the story throughout the trilogy, from the thin synths of a man drowning in memory to the triumphant salvo of rock’n’roll bombast signaling victory in the end is epically brilliant. This is clearly the combination of Keenan working with wonderful brothers in arms who get his vision—the combined work of Scott Passamonte, Travis Alexander and Josh Isaac, really take hold here like never before on their previous work. Here we find four brilliant musicians working toward a brilliant vision that becomes fully realized for their very effort.
Crystal City begins innocently enough with the instrumental link track of “The Great Rebuild” which starts soft before exploding and blowing your mind inside of a minute. No mean feat, indeed. “Empty Chair “ immediately lets you know where your at, as Keenan proclaims that “We’ll fill the void as best we can.” Tate reflecting on the loss of loves lost and ages past, the mission to rebuild for the future based on a past now held only to memory. What follows is perhaps my favorite track on the album, it also seems to be a radio-radio ready immediate single, really a continuation of the previous song, “Ex-Ghosts” is brilliant in ever beat, still recalling the synth heavy previous incarnations, Tate is still lost in memory, but emerging from his current bondage, both literally and metaphorically—it is nearly anthemic in its delivery.
“Particles Collide” introduces harder guitar as the synth ephemera starts to fade away, a tale of reconstruction and physics at once, our protagonist is emerging into the now, living in the moment and the passion is clear, the energy of moving forward cannot helped but be felt. “Shaken but not stirred, this show must go on anyway…nothing’s going to stop us now,” another single worthy anthem, this could set many listeners on fire should they stand too close to the fire burning within this album. “The chill washes like a shoreline through my fragile spine and in the wreckage of my head,” our hero reflects for a moment in “Guarded By Seraphs” a schizophrenic number represented by alternating movements of the past and present, musically represented by keyboards versus brilliant guitar madness. At what stands at the halfway point of the album, I realize that I love every song here, all for very different reasons, but most with much admiration in their construction and subliminal themes, the latter of which I’m not even sure were intentioned.
The brilliantly titled “A Toast To The End Of Days” tells the tale of our hero pondering how life could have been different if he had simply run away with his love and lived a normal life, contrasted with the reality of reinforcing the walls around his current existence and the city that means the survival to his species. At this point, the depth of thinking, the impressive breadth of the story becomes even more overwhelming than it has been before—it is as though, the story was lived, dreamt, believed and has now become real in this retelling of a future apocalyptic love story. This is heavy. “Savor This Scene” continues in a similar vein, yet the electronic flourishes are slowly slipping away in deference to more earthy music making machines, the tone, the lyrics, the music all point to this particular tune being the turning point toward ultimate redemption for Jon Tate: “If our love is a movie, can we savor this scene, before the tides get low, the nights gets cold and my character starts spinning out of control…” Almost the rock love ballad of the album, but in the way that My Chemical Romance would present such a notion. Awesome.
“The Tempest Will Unfurl” is like a wave crashing over the listener with some sense of sweet relief, a steady atmospheric shoegazing number, this consumes you in resurrected hope for the world our hero is rebuilding for all that will occupy it—in this realm, Tate will save the world and this is the moment in which he becomes resolute about just that. Wrestling with illusion vs. reality, past vs. present, memory vs. vision, are enormous themes and in “Baited & Switched” the protagonist has to deal with these conflicts, “Break me free from confinement now” echoes this sentiment. “Let’s just be on our way,” indeed.
Starting with civil defense alarms and a guitar assault, the explosive opening to “The Battle For Crystal City” is a startling number and one of the most brilliant as the forces found in this story literally go to war, and the question is whether this is literal in that the citizens of Vita Nova or going to war against the enemy tearing down their walls or if this is a metaphor for Jon Tate’s own psychological need for mental integration. “Future Forecast” is the grand finale to the entire affair, to the album and the entire trilogy, in which Tate is triumphant, but not without understanding the cost of victory, not without a nervous, watchful eye toward the future though all seems “sunny.” Tate proclaims “Our new lives start today, so let’s embrace it.” It is with this line that the entire story, the entire trilogy becomes clear—this may be a story with a backdrop of a future apocalyptic world in which robots turn against their creators, in which loves and lives are lost, but really, it’s the story of any life, lived fully with purpose and mission, it’s the story of being human, a story of living, loving, moving, losing, of realizing ones purpose and living up to that realization. This has been the story of every one of us, as we progress through life, experiencing our own personal apocalypses and emerging triumphant and stronger on the other side of them. This is how life works, whether it is decorated with sci-fi fantasy or reduced to the psychological drama in one man’s mind. This is bloody brilliant and Crystal City is an instant classic. A Life Of Science have never been more on top of their game, more poignant or more astute. From the lyrical observations on life to the musical mood play and instrumental representation of thematic presence, this is a carefully orchestrated effort and one that should not be missed. Don’t take my word for it, you can listen to it right here—but for the whole picture, begin at the beginning and watch our hero all the way through to the end, then wonder what the hell this amazing band of visionaries will do next