Monday, January 23, 2012
Brave Saint Saturn -- Anti-meridian
Excellent middle chapters are tough to follow. I like Return of the Jedi as much as any 80's kid, but let's face it: it's not as good as the Empire Strikes Back. I actually really enjoyed the second Matrix film, but I don't think the third film was what anybody wanted it to be. Brave Saint Saturn's Anti-meridian is in the same spot. What should it be about? How should it feel? How should it sound? To compound the pressure more, Reese Roper was put in perhaps the worst place an artist can reside: he had infinite time on his hands to work on the album. Instead of having to just roll with the decisions compounded time in a studio would offer, Reese was faced with the proposition of making a decision, having the time to undercut it, and then having the time to undercut it again. In this mode things can sometimes never sound right. On top of everything, Roper's bandmates were spread across the country, making collaboration difficult. All of these factors should form a recipe for disaster, but miraculously, Anti-meridian, while not matching its predecessor, is a solid album and a worthy closer to the Brave Saint Saturn trilogy.
One thing that marks this album though, is, surprisingly, darkness. It probably isn't as dark as its predecessor, but...
On the surface, Anti-meridian is the tale of how the surviving members of the USS Gloria make it back to Earth, and what happens after they return. Underneath it's about a lot of things, American social issues, the church, feelings of failure and undeservingness, and basically everything that had been on Reese Roper and Dennis Culp's minds in the five year interim between Five Iron Frenzy's demise and this album's release. The thickest strand is perhaps Roper's character's feelings that despite his crew's accidental successes, their mission was a failure, which one can't help but transpose into Roper's feelings about Five Iron Frenzy and that band's dissipation. Sure, Five Iron is back together now, but in 2008 they were deader than expressions involving disco, and Reese's feelings of disappointment is perfectly understandable, even the disappointment he feels toward himself, and just how much fans of the band can get to him. I'm sure Five Iron Frenzy devotees never expected to hear Roper say "I hate you all!" but his repeated screams of this at the end of "Fortress of Solitude" are as convincing as anything he's emoted. Hey, I said this album was surprisingly dark, didn't I?
Most of Roper's tracks are predictably great, though the album-opening ELO cover feels a little out of place, and Roper original "When You Burn Too Fast" is just a little over the top. His "Always Just Beneath the Dawn," which describes the problematic relationship Reese has had with his father is an emotional highpoint, though it certainly is at the right place smack in the middle of the darkest patch of songs. Perhaps the biggest disappointment on Anti-meridian is some of Dennis Culp's output. While his two contribution's to The Light of Things Hoped For were both quite strong, Culp's first contribution to Anti-meridian, "Underground" is by far one of the band's weakest songs. It's tired topic of the current music market is out of place on the album, and the song isn't great to begin with. "Hero's Homecoming" is a bit better, particularly benefitting from an unexpected bridge, and "Fields of the Fallen" and "Begin Again" and are both back in the realm of high quality we expect from Mr. Culp. While I'm knocking flaws, sixteen tracks is probably a bit overkill, though two are ill-advised interview segments with the surviving Gloria members about their now ended mission. The news broadcasts on The Light of Things Hoped For worked far better, though these two short segments aren't bad enough to be distracting.
Despite these flaws, Anti-merdian holds its own. "Mercenary" and "Starling" might be the best one-two punch Reese has conceived, except for the double-closers on this same album, "These Frail Hands" and "Invictus." "These Frail Hands" closes out the USS Gloria's story, as, far in the future, the astronauts reflect on their need for God as they fade into the night. The repeated refrains from "Gloria" and "Daylight," the album closers from Brave Saint Saturn's previous two albums, over the final chorus of "These Frail Hands" are particularly affective. "Invictus" is just straight up worship, a powerful song, and another candidate for Reese Roper's most passionate vocal performance. "Invictus" is a wonderful conclusion for the album, but it's also an excellent finale for Brave Saint Saturn's entire trilogy. Roper's wife Amy's background vocals give the saga an even greater feeling of completion.
Overall, Anti-meridian is a lovely and fitting conclusion to one of the more intrepid musical endeavors of the last decade. It might not be perfect, but it's got the Spirit of a Champion.
2008 Department of Biophysics
1. Here Is The News 3:41
2. Mercenary 3:21
3. Starling 4:00
4. Underground 3:46
5. When You Burn Too Fast 3:04
6. Through Depths of Twilight 3:09
7. Hero's Homecoming 3:34
8. Ammodramus 1:56
9. Fields of the Fallen 3:57
10. Always Just Beneath the Dawn 3:52
11. Fortress of Solitude 4:16
12. Blessed Are the Land Mines 4:57
13. Aegolius 1:49
14. Begin Again 3:37
15. These Frail Hands 6:05
16. Invictus 3:19