Review Summary: "I've spent years trying to find my way back in."
"Let's not talk of love or chains, and things we can't untie", the great Leonard Cohen sang once, and folks: if there's a truer line in existence I don't care to hear it.
It's July 2021, and I'm fucking scared, for so many reasons I'm sure I don't need to name or elaborate on. Things are hopeless and not getting better anytime soon. So I do what I've always done when shit gets rough - hide in my room and retreat to an imagined world better than the one I live in. Self-invented or offered by the art I consume, it doesn't matter, as long as it's vivid enough that I don't have to colour between the lines myself. As long as I can easily pretend it's real.
It's June 2021, the very last day, and Adjy have released the most complete document I know of regarding love and chains. It was pure serendipity that this band, whose name I wasn't familiar with a week ago, released The Idyll Opus (I-VI)
just as I once again found myself inside, stuck with myself and nothing but time. Lord knows I needed it: we're talking about an album that clocks in over an hour and a half, where the lyrics are laid out in an accompanying document like a play, with different indents for the main characters and an actual Greek chorus. Yup, it's one of those
albums, brazenly ambitious and audacious in its absolute certainty that it's worth your time.
The good news? It absolutely is. Adjy's past work caps out with a hard-to-find cassette EP in 2014 and the Prelude
EP in 2016 – that's how long ago they started mapping out this thing - and here they are in 2021, releasing a concept album you can try to untangle like House of Leaves
. Labyrinthine though it may be, The Idyll Opus
is oddly accessible for a piece of work this long and involved. Gorgeous intertwining melodies unwind like clockwork around airtight backing tracks; songs build themselves up, shudder apart and reassemble from what's left, all overlapping vocal lines and superlative polyrhythmic drumming. The overarching effect calls to mind if The Hotelier decided to one-up The Dear Hunter at their concept album game, conscripting a drummer who could keep time with The Mars Volta on their way; the sheer talent on display makes all this insanity not only possible but palatable, with drummer Austin Smith constantly threatening to steal the show from vocalist/lyricist Christopher Noyes. It's so easy to be sucked into Adjy's welcoming vortex that you subconsciously absorb the concept, letting it rest in your brain to unfurl on repeat listens. Put simply: a boy named June meets a girl called July, and an elaborate, multi-generational story of (sometimes literal) Greek tragedy unfolds around their love.
"Can you fence life in? when life like wind/is the movement made, it's not the air moving."
One could argue that The Idyll Opus
is simply too much album, too much concept. It wouldn't be going out on a limb, this being an album with a five-minute instrumental overture leading into a nine-part suite, not to mention a monolithic 17-minute closer. Maybe I just desperately need distraction, but when making an album that needs a companion text to be fully decoded, I reckon you might as well go big as hell - especially when every page is as touching, bold and thrilling as what Adjy have inked here. The main thing I love about The Idyll Opus
is, hilariously, its restraint; this is a quietly lovelorn album that works in gentle autumnal textures, like an old book you've found in a forgotten attic, pages worn but words still glowing like burning coal. In other words, a significant departure from the proggy, math-indebted emo of the Prelude
EP, although the album certainly isn't without moments of contagious energy.
"On a Road Trip That Summer's Day" begins as a simple meditation on our protagonist's life, even allowing for a quick cameo of the Moirai of Greek mythology, but halfway through the pace picks up into one of the most stunning music sequences all year. One doesn't need to follow the lyrics to feel
June's heartbeat picking up speed as he first meets July; it's all there in the music, man, as Smith lays down a furious beat and violins dance winningly over an honest-to-god banjo. Like the formidable Aaron Weiss, Noyes is excellent at puncturing the writerly pretensions of his text with lovely moments of simple humanity at exactly the right times. The very next song, "At a Dance Where the Stars Cross", is purely a dialogue between the two, making it clear that this is no male-gaze text with a paper-thin female character, but a true duet between characters:
JULY: "Y’ever think we are the movements in some grander wheel?"
JUNE: "You mean like the pinions in a clock from the second hand view?"
JULY: "Yes, and when our beats cross, we act the cardinal rhymes/that must sound silly, I just, I've never felt this small or this important..."
Immediately after all this existential talk is a foot-tapping dulcimer breakdown as the characters get up to dance, furthering the balance between Adjy's hefty dialogue and its undeniable sense of fun. I could pick out great moments like this for paragraphs and not even scratch the surface: when "O Tonight" arrives like a lightning bolt in the middle of the album, a masterwork in sequencing a catchy banger in an album this complex; when "Maps" arrives at the bone-chilling climax "all moments lead to here, and all futures flow from now!"; the spine-tingling refrain that closes the sublime "In The Space Between Pages...", slowly morphing between "it used to be here" and "you used to be here". All the composite pieces of The Idyll Opus
will be easily identifiable for most of you; its blueprints are the bold-font emotionality of Clarity
(especially "Just Watch the Fireworks"), the reckless ambition of The Early November's The Mother, The Mechanic and The Path
, the clever meta-commentary of The Dear Hunter's use of Greek chorus, the complex musicality of The World is a Beautiful Place... or Foxing. But it's how Adjy build the structure up from those plans, investing every brick with care and attention and absolute sincerity, that makes this something truly special.
"We keep circling around here, don't we? Age after age?"
If the album slightly stumbles, it's with the overlong "Secretus Liber (Beneath The Fireworks That Fell In Mystique Participation)". The song certainly lives up to that name, a lyrical turning point where a sweet love story becomes something infinitely more complex and mythological, but it's the one time Noyes struggles to fit all these huge ideas into a simple melody. What a twist, though: this is no simple boy-meets-girl yarn, but the story of lovers trapped in an Ouroborus, "on an endless loop 'til we get this right". If that sounds a lot like Trophy Scars' superb Never Born, Never Dead
EP, the comparison is a compliment. Noyes handles the subject matter with tenderness and grace, expanding its edges to fit in enough ideas for a whole discography: maple seeds and cicada hibernation cycles, books which tell the half-written stories of the characters' own lives, even a Foxing-esque banger that namechecks Wuthering Heights and Ancient Greece – I know, I know - called "The Farmland and the Forest's Edge".
"How could you leave half a tale untold?"
The sublimely gorgeous "Lake Adeyoha", perhaps the best song on the album, begins as a quiet folk song before layering in horns and clattering, stop-and-start drums which stir the tune to life. It almost feels like a microcosm of the album; a slowly flourishing piece of work, moving at its own gentle pace, but unafraid to stomp and shake the ground when the moment comes. The 17 minutes of "Eve Beneath the Maple Tree" feel like a generously compact coda after everything else: the song shifts from tempo to tempo and style to style, never gratuitously, moving with purpose as it tracks the last moments of July's life before gently washing away into piano and cicada noises. Any overly grandiose or cheesy moments along the way - sure, I can admit there are a few - are more than justified at the end. With a stunning, contradictory lyric "though we won't last the evening, we'll have 'til dawn", Noyes closes one chapter of his tale while still suggesting endless possibilities to come.
"This isn't how this story is supposed to go."
As the 1000-plus words above can attest, I'm invested to the core in the world Adjy have created here: trying to decode strange symbols in the lyrics booklet, scouring the lyrics of Prelude
for clues, the whole deal. (Don't even get me started on the fact that the lyric site lists numbers VII-XII without songs yet attached – dear god, I am in this for the long fucking haul
). I don't know if I'll always love The Idyll Opus
as fiercely as I do now, but frankly, that's not what matters at all. Adjy hand-crafted a beautiful world right when I needed it most, and extended an invitation to dive right in. Whatever happens in the future, The Idyll Opus
always will have been the most important thing to me for this one, shining, vivid moment in time. What is that if not what we all need music for?