Review Summary: Caligula's Horse outdo themselves once again.
It's hard to overstate the achievement that is "In Contact".
The music is relentless, yet restrained; heavy, yet soaring; familiar, but adventurous like nothing Caligula's Horse has produced before. It is passionate, melancholy, tragic, and occasionally euphoric. It is definitely the quintet's densest offering, and it takes more than a couple casual listens to fully appreciate it. But once you sit back, close your eyes, and really experience the album, you will catch a glimpse of the spark of genius that inspired this album.
Concretely, the album is a conceptual anthology. Its three movements tell the stories of three artists who are searching for inspiration. The lyrics are poetic and abstract, so it helps to watch the interviews with the singer, Jim Grey, and the lead guitarist, Sam Vellen where they detail the album's concept track-by-track. I found that additional perspective added a lot to the album on an emotional level. The themes are overall very dark -- much more so than their sophomore release, TTTARE -- and I found myself with a lingering melancholy after a few consecutive listens.
The songs themselves work best in context, but "Dream the Dead", "Will's Song", and "The Cannon's Mouth" stand confidently on their own. Some of the best moments exist in contrast: the acoustic bridge in "Dream the Dead" is simple but welcome after the wrenching emotional tension of the first six minutes. The first two movements end on simple, tender, and infectious acoustic pieces, both of which provide the listener a chance to recover. The third movement contains an expertly delivered spoken word track that felt out of place at first, but made more sense with each consecutive listen. It would take far too long to detail every brilliant moment in every song on this record. That said, the review would be incomplete without mentioning the 16-minute-long album closer, "Graves". The saxophone/guitar duet at the end is absolutely fantastic. Definitely listen to "Graves" if the rest of the album somehow doesn't appeal.
Still, "In Contact" is not flawless. The first and second movements are of quite different lengths, and that places the two acoustic pieces, "Love Conquers All" and "Capulet", too close together which slows the pacing. The concept is somewhat impenetrable from the lyrics themselves, which can be a little hard to make out when Grey sings falsetto. It would be all too easy to miss out on this dimension of the music. The spoken word track could be too easily seen as self-indulgent. Graves, while brilliant, carries on a touch too long. But these are really minor blemishes.
Ultimately, I believe this album will be the yardstick against which all future C. Horse albums will be measured. Though the band has a long history of exceeding their previous efforts to produce some of the best progressive music out there today, In Contact is a leap forward. It flirts with perfection and - if nothing else - proves it's within Caligula's Horse's reach.