The latest album from Cosmograf, Capacitor, moves us from theme of space and the human condition in 2013’s The Man Left in Space into the world of the Afterlife and Spirits in a series of evocative ghost stories. The musical narrative is embellished with support and cameos from various progressive rock artists, but make no mistake, this album is very much the creation of the talented multi-instrumentalist , Robin Armstrong, with impressive imagination and skilled musicianship.
In an interview with Alison Henderson in 2011 Robin Armstrong revealed that the origin of the project name ‘Cosmograf’ came from his interest and work with Timepieces. The name is based on the luxury watch ‘Rolex Cosmograph’, and it also reflects his interest in time and space, so imaginatively displayed in The Man Left in Space. This name choice is no coincidence as there is a clear connection between the intricate precision, high quality craftsmanship and stylish design of a Rolex watch, and the skilful, precise and imaginatively designed soundscapes shaped by Cosmograf.
The album’s subtitle is ‘The Amazing Spirit Capture’ which simultaneously conveys the spiritual theme underlying the songs, particularly the gothic styled piece about Dr. Robert Merrill demonstrating his ’Spiritual Capture Machine’, and also describes the effect as the listener’s imagination is drawn in and captured by these fascinating songs. The Spirit Capture, as shown in Graeme Bell’s impressive gothic sleeve artwork, and the following The Fear Created serve as scene setters for the album with sound effects and voices interweaved through the music, which has a notably heavy edge, underpinned by the solid bass of Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree). Armstrong displays his own versatility with a delightful rippling keyboard solo towards the end of the first song, and follows it up with great guitar in The Fear Created, with church organ conveying the desperate perspective of an unheard, unnoticed spectre.
One of the more remarkable features in Cosmograf’s development from early albums is the quality of Armstrong’s vocals. The excellent 2011 album When Age Has Done It’s Duty featured significant vocal contributions from Huw Lloyd-Jones (Also Eden & Unto Us) and prog troubadour, Steve Thorne. However, on Capacitor Armstrong has the confidence to handle all the vocals with aplomb, displaying a distinctive tone and range to cope with powerful rock pieces or more introspective numbers, such as The Drover. The melancholic story of a man who hung himself from an oak tree in the 1850’s near where Armstrong lives in Waterlooville, is vocally delivered with subtlety and feeling. The line ‘I get the smell of the smoke now’ is conjured up so evocatively with Andy Tillison (The Tangent) on organ and synths that one can virtually smell the smoke and almost see the ghostly image of a tragic brooding figure with a pipe.
Whilst Capacitor focuses on ghosts it is not overwhelmed in darkness, and even has some lighter moments, albeit suffused with dark humour. The Reaper’s Song starts with an amusing intro as a train announcer states ‘Thanks for boarding the Reaper Train 8am service to Oblivion, calling at Greed, Stupidity and Laziness’ as we are taken along for a ride with the slightly crazed figure of Death itself, with the Armstrong family ‘Station Chorus’ and Steve Dunn (Also Eden) adding solid bass lines. Returning to a train theme for the first time since highlight Evolution Railroad from early release End of Ecclesia (2009) Cosmograf move into an amusing Beatles pastiche of I Am The Walrus as Death proclaims ‘Sitting in a station, waiting for a train to come… Stupid Little People’ and the station announcer concludes with the comic warning ‘Please Mind the Gap between Life and Death’.
The atmosphere gets decidedly darker later as we enter the musical séance of White Car with Katherine Thompson as the medium channelling a spirit trying to warn of tragedy. This is a real tour de force with shifting perspectives, drama and hints of one of Armstrong’s favourites, Porcupine Tree. The vocals on this epic song resemble Roger Waters at times, and the imaginative use of sound effects throughout the album echoes Pink Floyd, but this work is far too imaginative to be dismissed as a slavish rip off of classic prog rock. Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train & ex- Spock’s Beard) drums throughout and really shows his versatility to great effect through the many facets of White Car.
The drama continues to build into ‘The Ghost Gets Made’ as we move full circle from the Victorian Steampunk ‘Capacitor’ machine on the opening song into the modern nightmare of a soul being trapped in an electrical device like a smartphone. One cannot help wondering whether Armstrong is hinting that we may all be allowing our minds and spirits to be captured by such devices. This driving song is impelled along powerfully by D’Virgilio and one man rock orchestra Armstrong in a remarkable display of production and musical dexterity. As the lines climax with ‘Magnetic forces are working, storing your progress, You get old and you die, You leave a digital fortress’ a guitar solos skywards. Phantom-like the song fades away eerily into the album coda Stuck in the Wood. The sleeve notes state ‘Capacitor was inspired by many hours walking alone in silence’ and this piece clearly evokes those forest walks in which Armstrong senses the departed souls all around him in nature ‘stuck in the wood’ . He sings his most sensitive vocal whilst bass maestro, Nick Beggs (Steve Hackett & Steven Wilson), deftly anchors the song.
Capacitor is truly cinematic in scope – not as ‘backing music’ for a film, but in the sense that Cosmograf conjure up fascinating musical pictures with such imagination and skill. Armstrong urges us to ‘Listen along, in the dark,… and let your spirit be captured’ , and such is the captivation it is difficult to recall a progressive rock album in the last 12 months which surpasses this work in quality. As Matt Stevens spiritually soars his distinctive guitar over the final song the ultimate emotional effect of this fine album is captured in the final line :
‘You’ll feel my touch in this song’.
As an artist so clearly skilled with timepieces and progressive music perhaps it should now be time for more of the recognition Cosmograf so richly deserve – is that one seance tap for ‘Yes’?
01. The Spirit Capture (7.37)
02. The Fear Created (7.29)
03. The Reaper’s Song (5.54)
04. The Drover (6.37)
05. White Car (9.35)
06. The Ghost Gets Made (8.27)
07. Stuck in the Wood (6.27)
Total Time: 52:06
Robin Armstrong – Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars, Eerie Synth, Piano & Bass
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums
Colin Edwin – Bass Guitar & Ebows (1 & 2)
Steve Dunn – Bass Guitar (3)
Andy Tillison – Organ, Synths & Keys (4)
Nick Beggs – Bass Guitar (7)
Matt Stevens – Guitars (7)
Katherine Thompson – Voice of the Medium (5)
Steve Mayne – Voice of the Server (6)
Linda, Amy and Sam Armstrong – The Station Chorus (3)
Record Label : Cosmograf Music (Independent)
Catalogue Number COS05
Year of Release: 2014
The Man Left In Space (2013)
When Age Has Done It’s Duty (2011)
End Of Ecclesia (2009)
Freed From The Anguish (2008)