Lost Horizons: The Continuing Adventures of Abney Park
Review by Rick Damigella
Most genres of music have gone hand in hand with a fashion or artistic movement. But no genre is as inextricably linked to its synonymous style as Steampunk, and the foremost artisans of the steampunk sound are AbneyPark.
For the uninitiated, steampunk, as an artistic, literary and fashion statement, encompasses an anachronistic fusion of high technology into the Victorian era, generally powered by steam. Put simply, imagine Sherlock Holmes with a steam powered computer to solve crimes. AbneyPark has taken what writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and William Gibson have set down on paper and brought it to magical life through their music and look.
The band’s sound is a fascinating amalgamation of different music styles including goth, electronica, middle eastern and other world music styles, that has been transmogrified into a wholly unique listening experience. Since steampunk is rooted in a fictionalized history, AbneyPark has taken this to heart and created their own back story as a crew of “airship pirates” who travel the skies of a time that never was. At their concerts, you can even join their crew by purchasing dogtags with various ranks engraved on them. Steampunk acolytes are well versed in the sounds of AbneyPark, so this review will be geared to the newcomer, the seeker of musical adventure.
Track by Track Review
The Emperor’s Wives
A belly dance beat kicks off what quickly turns into a synth and guitar collision that actually feels more cyber-punk than steampunk, which is the beauty of this genre, where anything goes. The electronic rhythms provided by keyboardist Kristina Erickson combined with the guitar of Nathaniel Johnstone combine into a piece of trance-rock beauty.
The Middle Eastern flavor is exceptionally potent on the “hit single” of the album. I call it that as it was the first song I heard by Abney Park and it sticks with you like any stand out track should. The dreamy blend of instrumentation combined with the velvety vocals of Captain Robert form what is the essence of this band’s sound: familiar, foreign and enticing. The ethereal background vocals of Finn Von Claret (also the band’s on stage belly dancer until this past summer) help propel this song into the sonic stratosphere.
She One of the more unabashedly gothy songs on the album, this would not sound out of place in the pantheon of Depeche Mode. Continuing in a slower, dreamy mode, the cut is another great example of AbneyPark’s unique blending of genres.
The Secret Life of Dr. Calgori Sounding for the world like the title of a lost short story of H.P. Lovecraft, this number trends almost into chill-out territory, with its atmospheric synths and violin sweeps. Captain Robert alternates between clean and antique distorted vocals (something which he recreates on stage to amazing effect!).
This Dark and Twisty Road A bit of Spanish-style acoustic guitar changes the mood instantly from the previous numbers, though the subject matter of the lyrics is no less different. The hand drumming, synth colors and multilayered vocals round out this pretty song.
Herr Drosselmeyer’s Doll The keys of Kristina Erickson instantly evoke a dark and twisted carnival from out of the recesses of your dreams. A very subdued but delectably distorted guitar lurks beneath the keyboard beauty, menacing from the shadows, playing off of each other as Captain Robert’s voice sits between like a ringmaster displaying the automaton of which the lyrics sing.
Virus The spookiness of the keyboards continue into this number, followed by a complex syncopated rhythm and guitars. Captain Robert’s vocals take on a particular menace in his delivery.
I Am Stretched On Your Grave With sparse beginnings featuring synth pops and percussion, Captain Robert delivers his lines in a style which reminds me of Tim Hart from Steeleye Span, though the song is nothing like the Celt-rock of the legendary English band. The mid-tempoed groove is trance-like and features some great riffing from Nathaniel Johnstone.
Post-Apocalypse Punk The band saves the full-tilt rocker for the end of the album. A straight up distorted six-string launches the number with several false stop-starts as Captain Robert joins in telling another tale of steampunk in story-song style. This one features some killer bass lines from Daniel C. and some of the most delicious keyboard parts on the album from Kristina Erickson. This song is a great example of the steampunk style at its best.
The Ballad of Captain Robert CD’s are great because of hidden tracks. Let the disc keep playing and instead of looping back to one, a dedicated listener will sit through a bit of silence to find one more treat at the bottom of the cereal box. After two minutes of quiet, the creaking of airship masts starts the song properly, as Captain Robert sings his own song whilst playing a button accordion. Like any good pirate shanty, it’s singable and fun. So should you decide to join the crew of the H.M.S. Ophelia, whether as an airship pirate, an aeronaut or a plucky sidekick (all ranks from their dogtags) you are surely destined for a great musical adventure.