Saturday, May 14, 2016

Album Review: Long Distance Calling - "TRIPS"

It’s likely no secret that we here at BGM often gape in awe at sublime displays of versatility.  One of the tenets of truly great musicianship by any definition is the ability to expand borders and give multiple looks and listens within one experience.

So let’s cut to the chase here; Long Distance Calling’s new full-length “TRIPS” covers an awful lot of bases within its nine cuts, ranging from ‘80s police chase complete with clean synth to emotional prog balladeer to forceful metal cruncher.

Now, those likely sound like incredibly disparate ideas, and they certainly are, so that’s part of the genius of “TRIPS,” is the ability to contain all of that in one journey, with an end result more like a soundtrack than an album in the traditional sense.  This becomes doubly true as the music bends through multiple phases within one song, Long Distance Calling falling back on their purely instrumental roots to craft dynamic, layered experiences.

Diving in, the album begins with “Getaway,” and suddenly it’s “Simon and Simon” all over again, mixed in with themes from “Scarface,” “Robocop,” and maybe “Sledge Hammer?”  The song feels like watching an “A-Team” montage, just waiting for a third world dictator’s jeep to flip over.  The press releases surrounding “TRIPS” talk a great deal about music’s ability to time travel, and this is certainly an exhibition of that, right down to the distorted vocals and clean guitar tones.

“Trauma” brings us closer to the present, as the band concocts a riff that would sound right at home on most modern metal records, a sinister brew of accessible riffing and deliberate pacing that pounds the pavement with confidence, eventually weaving in some higher melodies and playing with the cadence.  This transitions cleanly into “Lines,” and we’ve back in time again to the ‘80s, now aping the great speed riffs of Jake E. Lee in creating a righteous sing-along that sounds somewhat movie-inspirational without sounding contrived.

By the time we wander through “Momentum” and the symphonic second half of “Plans,” we’ve known thrown Soundgarden into the mix, along with that brief period in the late ‘90s when every band wanted to do an album with a full orchestra behind them.  The versatility of “TRIPS” is really staggering in this regard, the band using the protective aegis of ‘prog’ to incorporate any and all musical ideas into one cauldron.

Some of this is going to come to personal taste, but there is a sense here that the envelope could have been pushed a little farther within each idiom – that there could be more conviction behind the metal, more depth behind the grunge, more tone amidst the melody.  Additionally, there is a slight air of replication on “TRIPS,” like the band is re-producing these fond musical memories more than intrinsically crafting their own.

In the long view, these are comparatively minor quibbles on an album that never fails to capture attention or wow with its ability to change gears and wind together past and present into one tapestry.  “TRIPS” is not a singles album, not the kind of experience that will generate a hit or two and have the rest be left behind – it is a complete experience, best listened to with consideration of all the other tracks in mind, and a generally great achievement.

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