It is almost an understatement to record that Chronomonaut is the 17th studio recording from Tennessee prog rockers Glass Hammer, the veteran outfit based around the partnership of multi-instrumentalists Steve Babb and Fred Schendel joined for this outing by semi-permanent members Susie Bogdanowicz on vocals and Aaron Raulston on drums as well as a host of guests. I say understatement because this is more than a record, it is a multi-media experience with a storyline in a booklet (essential to follow the plotline) and a host of viral video diary clips recorded by 'Tom' the main protagonist. Although the title points back to 2000's release Chronometree, this is all part of the fun, because this, despite the subject matter is a very forward looking album. This 70 minute epic charts the musical aspirations of Tom, a young man of the modern day caught out of time, who yearns to return to his spiritual home era (as opposed to some prog fans of my generation who can't accept that they ever left it).
This allows Glass Hammer to treat us not only in a retrospective musical odyssey, while also indulging their taste for fantasy epics and Victorian literature, but also to explore a more modern feel while having a lot of tongue in cheek fun along the way. The first half of the album deals with Tom's yearning to be able to get back to experience the masters of the past glory days, although never forgetting that he is a child of the millennium. The wistful piano of the short intro gives way to a full blooded anthemic prog piece, flashy guitar and keyboards, but also with almost uniquely a kick-ass brass section playing kick-ass brass like Chicago, the effect is exhilarating and it is kudos to Glass Hammer that they manage to pull off something so extraordinarily joyful, yet so seldom heard. Such is the expanse of this album, that I could waste half the space of this review listing what is an eclectic A-Z of influences. Not only are there brave nods to King Crimson but also, and again uniquely, elements of electronica are also utilised in an original kaleidoscope of sound.
The narrative pivots half way through around A Hole In The Sky the point at which our hero is given his chance to fulfil his wish, in a blaze of 60s pop-influenced upbeat indie-style he is transported and welcomed with a burst of Tangerine Dream style synths and a lament from Susie Bogdanowicz showing the emotional range of her vocals at their best. A whirl of Camel style instrumental in It Always Burns Sideways is usurped by another upbeat jazz-fuelled rocker in Blinding Light. That brass section can't be kept down and the band is clearly having a party on this one. There are further dramatic, and musical twists to come. Tangerine Meme wears its influence on its sleeve, marking a shift in direction, almost an awakening from a dream, a theme picked up in the languid opening chords and sweep of strings in Fade Away.
So does this all work out for young Tom? It would be churlish to divulge here, especially as I would recommend the curious to go find out for themselves. Suffice to say that the door remains open for more adventures. Paradoxically, Chronomonaut is at once retrospective and life-affirmingly forward looking. Glass Hammer have hit a peak of form with this release and long may it continue.
***** Andrew Cottrell
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