Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Incident Track-by-Track

This album's concept (putting a human face on detached news reports of tragedies) plays heavily into this track-by-track as an emotional and personal theme, as with any good concept album.

The opening track, Occam's Razor, is fittingly titled.  Through a slow ambient buildup after the initial salvos of chords that start the song, the chord progression of the next track is subtly suggested on a lone low string.  It's hair-raising in a way.  Blind House comes in heavy and vicious, the first real song of the album, with lyrics about the YFZ Ranch providing social context to the pounding, searing riffs laid down throughout the track.  These first two tracks work as a fitting prologue to the rest of the album.

Great Expectations kicks off the first act of the album, so to speak.  Plaintive piano riffs and soaring guitars collide smoothly with layers of organ to uplift the mood here, and effectively so.  Things shift imperceptibly into Kneel and Disconnect, a sort of prayer to joining the 9-5 grind, or rationalization of committing oneself to it.  Wilson overdubs vocals to give a choral, meditative feel over quiet keys, and the keys bridge the gap to Drawing the Line, a somewhat rebellious number that rides with the meditative piano until it blasts with wailing guitar and vocal triumphance.  This moment of glory loses steam somewhat about halfway through, feeling slightly repetitive.  It still manages to finish incredibly strongly and lapses into the cold, mechanical rumblings of The Incident, the disc's namesake (though not really its focal track). 

The Incident is where the band shows off their metal side, with heavy low-end guitar riffing backing up quiet wishes for emotional connection.  They then transition to bombastic choral backing vocals, airy guitars, and pretty much everything we've already seen.  Somewhat awkwardly, things transition into Your Unpleasant Family, and though this song can be sung along to and enjoyed, it lacks the depth that one would expect from this kind of an album.  It comes off as bland and somewhat shallow compared to what you've already been through with this album... like a commercial break.  The following segue, The Yellow Windows of the Glass Train, either comes off as a palette refresher or an annoying skiptrack depending on just how Family hits you.

Act 2 is entirely contained in the next track.

Time Flies, the 11-minute epic tribute to nostalgia and optimism on which the album hinges, is the brightest spot in the mix, and it's very bright.  The complex arrangement and multiple layers of guitar along with the rich texture of the rhythm section move the song along almost effortlessly, sprinting breathlessly through its first two choruses, ending in an epic explosion of sound that drops back to a single guitar for a long, Pink Floyd-esque bridge. When the song returns to the flying grandness of its last verse and chorus, speaking of a lifetime past, you will be completely in love with it.  This song is the true focal point of the album, speaking about the pivotal theme: a yearning for feeling, peace, and humanity.  Serenity, in a word.

Degree Zero of Liberty starts the third and final act of the album, tortured and bleak compared to its counterpart, Occam's Razor.  It's a bit of a herald to the fact that this is the darker, more negative side of the song cycle.  Octane Twisted, a song about an incident in which people found a corpse in a marsh near their home, slowly builds to a loud arrangement that starts to really rock by the end, punctuating the loudness with quiet, ambient breather moments.  Alternating between gliding octaves, heavy low-end crunch, and a bit of slide and arpeggiated lead on the guitar side of things, Wilson's work with Opeth really shows.  The Seance uses similar riffs to the beginning of the previous track, yet adds different arrangement to create a very different piece altogether.  It's lyrical themes of a seance (obviously) and contacting the departed offer a bit of hope for mellow resolution to the whole album before sweeping it aside (album's not over yet, kids!) with a syncopated acoustic riff that grooves into the heavy Circle of Manias.  The overdub-heavy sinister rock instrumental is a trick I've come to expect from Wilson, and he doesn't disappoint in this song.

The epilogue to all this - I Drive the Hearse - is a downer track.  It speaks of how the nameless narrator or narrators of the album's concept emotionally accept the sorrow present throughout it, a fitting resolution to the cycle.  Some lines are heartfelt and true, others come off incredibly cheesy.  Ultimately, the song works because it just feels like a closer.  Re-using similar tricks of arrangement and production seen in earlier parts of the album while still being its own song, the track puts neat little bows on any remaining pendulous threads.