Review Summary: Atlas is like a turbulent thunderstorm.
Growing up as a child, I can recall a few instances where a warm front would react violently with a cold front to create a turbulent thunderstorm that would wake me from my sleep during the night. Hiding under my covers, I was often terrified of the combination of rain, lightening, thunder, and even hail that would rage outside my window, stopping and starting up just when I thought it was over. I was usually not afraid of the weather during the day as I could see what was happening and prepare accordingly; however, at night, everything was completely unknown and unpredictable to my young mind. Truly, fear can become even more paralyzing when combined with the mysteries of the unpredictable. While listening to The American Dollar’s Atlas
, I began to draw comparisons between its network of sounds and that of the turbulent, unpredictable nature of the thunderstorms from my childhood.
2008’s A Memory’s Stream
saw The American Dollar improve on its weaknesses to create a competent, instrumental post-rock release that many cited as being the best of the band’s career. On Atlas
the conglomerate of drum loops, textured keyboards, and light guitar distortion return to make up the framework of the duo’s fourth release. While in many ways similar to the prior album, Atlas
incorporates tempo changes and instrumental climaxes into a number of the tracks that, while many might cite as welcome additions, actually work to disrupt the main flow of the album.
Congratulations are certainly in order for John Emanuele and Rich Cupolo as they nearly perfect the general sound for the mixture of elements on Atlas
. The piano and distant keyboard trappings of “Circuits” come off as purely organic despite the fact that much of the music is sampled and digitalized. In the same way, the opener’s dance with drum loops and keyboard effects effortlessly transitions to an awe-inspiring piano chord progression that sounds completely new and fresh – an element that is greatly needed in modern post-rock these days. Though a stretch as far as the term “organic” can go, the rapid, raindrop-type electronics at the conclusion of “Shadows” are sure to raise an eyebrow in the way the duo has effortlessly transitioned to this point from a somber piano beginning. In relation to the implemented climaxes, “Fade In Out” and “Ghost” undeniably steal the show. As what seems like instances where the songs are about to end, an unexpected surge of the elements ensues, and the songs climb to a whole new emotional level the quickly bring to mind the momentous thunder roars of the aforemention thunderstorms. Taken individually, the tracks are soothing, lush, and can be considered the perfect ear-candy for a stressful day.
The main problem with Atlas
arises when the album is listened to from start to finish. Yes, the individual cuts are strong, and yes, the new inclusions of a few climaxes are sure to excite listeners; however, Atlas
suffers from a disjointed and unpredictable nature – much like the thunderstorms of my youth. This is a problem that is often detrimental when it comes to many albums, particularly those in the post-rock genre. “Fade In Out” fails to capitalize on the quickened pace that comes with the end of “Age of Wonder”; instead, the song slowly broods before it climaxes after a short silence near its conclusion. Likewise, “Oil And Water” concludes on what can only be described as a post-rock guitar solo; however, “Circuits”, though organic and natural-sounding as an individual track, kills this momentum with its solemn piano build. “Flood” - another track that contains a surprising climax - ends in relative silence, and “Escapist” follows shortly but fails to regain the pace and feel of the album and as a result, closes off the album in a forgettable way. In many ways, it seems like the duo have randomly chosen the track listing of Atlas
, not caring if there is a conceptual or cohesive product. Another thing that probably doesn’t do much to help the flow of the album is a lack of proper transitioning points between tracks. Each one typically ends in silence, and the next to follow often begins altogether on a different tempo of intensity entirely.
Just like the thunderstorms, Atlas
does eventually come to an end. Surprisingly, I find that I am left with a feeling of awe and intrigue instead of fear or confusion. Yes, the album and the storm were often unpredictable and turbulent as experiences, but looking back, I remember how overwhelmingly powerful the events were in their scope; the individual elements therein were undeniably awe-inspiring as well. Front to back, it was never a fun or peaceful experience, but the individual aspects – separate from the whole, that is – were certainly masterful and articulate in their conception and feel. Atlas
is like a turbulent thunderstorm: it is powerful, ominous, and awe-inspiring, yet at the same time, Atlas
is unpredictable and disjointed as it runs through its course.