A mate of mine went to a Classic Rock night the other week. All the hits, all the covers. The word “Queen” was in there. That immediately signposts you to the fact that its music for people that don’t like music. I told him this (I struggle to keep my opinions to myself) and he replied in a WhatsApp Group with a list of bands that people who didn’t like music tended to like.
One of them was Yes (I disagree with the premise but we’ll go with it). Someone else in the group hit the nail on the head. “I don’t know much Yes”, he said, “but it’ll take some listening too, its prog.”
I love Prog Rock. I hate reviewing prog rock. And I hate reviewing prog rock because of this: “During the creative process of making this record, I discovered an even deeper part of my creative self I never knew existed. This album is the sign of a creative force both Kelly and I have come to discover. For the first time throughout working together for 18 years, we are perfectly aligned. Working with Kelly on this project has produced some of the most meaningful music I’ve created, and I believe represents some of my life’s best work to date.”
Those words are from an interview with Simon Collins and they render my usual reviews (you know, the ones where I witter on about WhatsApp groups with my mate and my brother, he of the Yes comment) to be facile. For these people, this music is the be all and end all. They deserve gravitas.
Here’s the problem, though. There’s a very real possibility that “The Architect” is the best album of 2023 so far and its been out six weeks while I sit gibbering in the corner, scared in case my words don’t do it justice.
So lets go back to the start and do the easy bit, yeah? eMolecule is Simon Collins and Kelly Nordstrom. They’ve worked together for two decades almost, they were in Sound Of Contact, and it was when Kelly was recording a demo of a track called “eMolecule” for Simon’s latest solo album that they realised they’d got something special.
“The Architect” starts with it, all near 11 minutes of it. Its hypnotic, trance-like and one to lose yourself in. It’s heavy too. A lot of this is. Occasionally, too, this album touches perfection.
The title track kicks off like Dream Theater, a maelstrom becomes a chopping, clinical riff and there’s a chorus here which is sensational. “I am the type of man” offers the hook, “that hurts you because I can”, and whatever (whoever?) this is about, it goes to scary places. “I am avarice” offers the harmony and it speaks to the greed and selfishness of 2023.
Unbelievably, “Prison Planet” is as good if not better. You had better understand they wrote this album in 2020 and the words: “this prison, this planet, is exactly as they planned it” still resonate with me. I have particular views on lockdown, and they might well be in synergy with these. We’ll leave that, though before I sound like a barmy conspiracy theorist and instead discuss the wonderful quasi-industrial nature of the track. It sounds huge, too.
Of course, by the nature of the sound, prog doesn’t work in normal boundaries. Even allowing for that, though, this has a gargantuan scope. The ambient sounds of “Mastermind” clash with huge riffs, and “Dosed” is to all intents and purposes a hard rock song. Or at least it is on the surface, before it heads off into something near industrial.
I used the word “gravitas” earlier in this. I did so deliberately. Because an air of importance hangs in the air throughout. These feel like “pieces of music” rather than songs. Nowhere is this better shown than on “The Turn”, which moves into metal waters, and the fact that its juxtaposed with the gentle “Awaken” underlines better than anything else will, the sheer breadth of material on this album – a fact that “Beyond Belief” reiterates, and that’s before “The Universal” begins as if it was going to a rave.
The lyrics here are nearly as good as the music, too. It’s an astonishing feat, how they make them so dystopian and yet so accessible all at once. Even when they do something gentle and warm like “My You” it seems to be holding some far greater truth, some great importance and if the use of keyboards has been phenomenal throughout, they are never better than on the slow building “Moment Of Truth”. “The child in me, he could never be deceived, but the man, he couldn’t help but dream” goes its first line and really? Is “The Architect” built for the dreamers? For those who think on a slightly different level?
I don’t know. I still don’t know and I’ve never listened to an album this many times before reviewing it, especially when in all candour I still don’t have a handle on it, not really. And I still can’t explain why it ends with a riff that would make Tesseract jealous, other than to say, it just does.
So here’s my conclusion: “The Architect” is a stupendous record. The best of 2023 so far by a million miles. Ask me why and to explain it and I’ll stare at you blankly then waffle for 900 words. I’ll tell you this, though, lose yourself in it and it is one of the most wonderful things of this decade.