Brad Geiger is a composer and musician from Los Angeles. Growing up, he lived in seven different towns and this itinerant life continue into adulthood. He spent years travelling across Europe and Australia, living three years overseas. He sees himself as a product of the L.A. indie/DIY scene and is also an author. In fact, this concept album is based on the fictional ancestors of characters featured in his fourth book, An Encyclopedia Of Time Traveling Criminals.
While this may sound like an unusual genesis for an album, the music contained in these eleven tracks is also rather unusual. It’s an extremely unique hybrid of rock, jazz, classical , hip hop and electronica, which has several similarities with progressive rock. But whereas prog-rock is well known for its musically epic proportions and lengthy instrumental solos, Geiger’s music is constructed and performed with the tight discipline and structure of classical music.
This is immediately manifest in the album’s opening track, Tom Rawling’s Old Ladies Peep Show Intro. Based around a jazzy, unpredictable chord progression, the track is built around swirling patterns of a clean sounding, almost jazz guitar-like synth, performed with metronomic accuracy.
It brings to mind the rock/jazz fusion of Frank Zappa who also incorporated classical elements into his music, but Geiger’s style is more symphonic and there is not a note wasted or out of place. It serves as a good introduction to both his inimitable idiosyncrasies as a composer, and to this album.
From then on, the track titles refer to the ancestors of character’s in his book, with the second track entitled Eleanor O’ Grady Rawling. This one shows the more electronic influence in his music, and how his gift for melody is juxtaposed against unexpected left turns in the music. This track develops a brooding intensity as it progresses, as swirling synths compete for attention, interacting in intricate ways.
Third track Alicia Poole O’Reilly takes the electronica style even further with a heavily dubstep-influenced sound of pounding kicks and snares, skittish, complex hi hat rhythms and edgy synths. It’s perhaps the most cutting edge, modern sounding composition here and the drum programming towards the end is superb. It’s brief at around ninety seconds but packs quite a punch.
The fourth track Alicia Poole O’ Reilly is rather more sparse and sombre in tone. A simple but plaintive piano and string melody is contrasted by a very intricate, hip hop influenced rhythm full of syncopations and triplets which gives the music a sophistication that will stand up to repeated listens. A lot of electronica fans will find much to enjoy here with this track, in particular.
Monica Duff Gallagher is another contrast, with a much more upbeat tone and ascending melody with a relatively simpler beat. The insistent way the melody is repeated brought to mind minimalist classical composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass (something akin to Koyaanisqatsi), incorporated into the electronic realm, of course.
Sixth track Rebecca Holt Smith feels like the closest to what you might call mainstream EDM, with a pounding beat that would work on the dancefloor. The synth melodies have an anthemic quality that the leading DJ/producers would be proud to call their own, though the music builds in a more intelligent way than you would find on a standard EDM record.
Angela Meaney O’ Brien is my personal favourite on the album, an intense rollercoaster ride of electronica, thrust along by dizzying synth melodies and an insistent, addictive beat. The way the music progressed reminded me of artists like Jean-Michel Jarre and the wondrous keyboard playing of Rick Wakeman.
Prog-rock fans will particularly love this. Eighth track Kelsey Cohen Powell is a distinct contrast, with a slinky laid back beat and a languid, reflective main melody. The drumming on this is excellent, with a nice groove. You could imagine future hip hop artists wanting to sample it.
Peggy Gallagher is the epic on the album at over five minutes. It starts out in a dubstep style, with a blistering beat featuring rapid-fire kick drum patterns. As it progresses, it wanders into somewhat more ambient, expansive and exploratory territory. The synth sounds start to become more distant and dreamy sounding, and there’s something about the main melody that made me think of Kraftwerk. A fascinating fusion of styles.
Molly Powell O’ Brien sounds almost like a continuation of the previous track, which is fairly common for a concept album, adding to the cohesiveness of the whole. The synth sounds on this one are rather more ‘choral’ in parts, for want of a better word. Another fine track that maintains the compositional high standard of the rest of the album.
Final track Margaret Ann O’Brien Gallagher has a certain emotional poignancy in its main melody, aided by a serene tempo. It has a kind of cinematic effect, akin to a final scene fade out, and I’d imagine probably correlates to an emotional aspect or scene in the book. There’s a nice handling of the music here, with multiple melodies interweaving, and it ends the album with a sense of understated drama.
Overall, this is an enjoyably innovative, quirky and imaginative album, all the more praiseworthy for being released in an era where the album format is a dying art. Fortunately, real artists always find a way and are prepared to go against the grain. It certainly requires a high degree of compositional skill to create an instrumental album that sustains the listeners interest throughout, as Geiger achieves here. While it’s a fine album in its own right, it intrigues the listener to know more about this multimedia project, and I look forward to further work in whatever form.
VERDICT: 8.4 out of 10