Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Album Review: Casablanca - Miskatonic Graffiti
Often going unnoticed, one of the biggest influences on the entire genre of sci-fi, specifically when it comes to alien overlords ruling the earth, is HP Lovecraft. He wrote stories about the Old Ones, and Chthulu, which have not only endured, but also gained a foothold of influence. It's hard to absorb much in the genre without seeing strains of Lovecraft running through them. He is also, indirectly, responsible for some of the thinking that runs through the tv show "Ancient Aliens", so we do need to dock him a lot of points for giving crazy people a reason to believe their crazy garbage.
I mention this because with "Miskatonic Graffiti", Casablanca gives us a concept album that tells a story of Lovecraftian lore, telling us about what happened even before the imagined reign of Chthulu. That is certainly a hefty concept for a record to live up to.
The album opens with the ten-plus minute "Enter The Mountains", which takes a long time to get going. After a creepy swell of organ, the first three minutes of the song is taken up by a doom-heavy section that stretches on for longer than I would have liked. After a briefly humorous harpsichord segue, the song kicks up into a roaring proto-metal number that still drops back into narrative exposition a few times. There's a decent idea to be found in there, but the song is just too long and overloaded with needless ideas for it to come together.
"Closer" is a step in the right direction. It's a short little rocker that actually reminds me a bit of the band Ghost, even though it doesn't really sound much like them. The organs are a standout, both in giving the song some depth, and for the short solo. I've always thought that organ was a great sound for rock, and this song is a good example of why. As is "This Is Tomorrow", which brings to mind the most prominent of all organ-using bands; Deep Purple (spare me The Doors; they were terrible). It's exactly the kind of song this sound can work for, with rock attitude and a solid solo to go along with a chorus that sounds huge.
"RE: Old Money" continues the train rolling, with more catchy melodies, and a solo that both in tone and notes feels like it could have come off Meat Loaf's underrated 80s album "Bad Attitude". It's a stunning turnaround that after the messy opening track, Casablanca fires on all cylinders and presents a string of excellent vintage-sounding rock.
And that brings us to the album's flaw; the concept does nothing for the music. For the most part, it is totally disconnected, as none of the songs sound remotely like the soundtrack of a story involving an alien entity taking over the planet. But more than that, when the band did try to indulge the story at the beginning, it was to the detriment of the music. Once that was over, they started playing great songs that I enjoyed the heck out of. Just listen to the sweet melody in the chorus of the title track and tell me Casablanca isn't doing something right here.
So on one level, I don't think "Miskatonic Graffiti" works very well as a concept album. It doesn't work as a soundtrack, and it doesn't expand well beyond traditional rock and roll. But if you forget about the concept, and embrace the good moments of the opener, what you're left with is a very fine example of modern vintage rock. I've heard several releases in this style this year, and this is among the best. For most of its running time, "Miskatonic Graffiti" is a blast to listen to, and well worth your time.