Review Summary: "There is no actual contact with any deeper reality, though the experience of it can be simulated."
In 1974, philosopher Robert Nozick argued against ethical hedonism with a thought experiment so harrowing that it continues to pervade our popular culture to this very day. Nozick’s idea of the “experience machine” is the central plot device of films like The Matrix
and novels like Infinite Jest
; why be present and participate in the real world if a simulated escape is infinitely more pleasurable and stimulating? Go ahead, plug in. It’s a world beyond your wildest dreams. It’s a terrifying idea, and one that encroaches upon our society with increased haste as the singularity and technological self-awareness loom over the horizon. However, something that’s stuck out to me recently is how Nozick’s thought experiment presupposes a fully functional experience machine, with no busted prototypes or faulty strings of code. A real-world experience machine would likely have to progress through numerous stages of trial and error to be deemed ready to host a human being inside of itself, accidentally offering either boring or bone-chilling experiences to its patrons before the formula was finally perfected. A finished product would be able to conjure sounds beyond the mind’s ability to comprehend; a mere prototype would force you to listen to Starcatcher
The Battle At Garden’s Gate
could hardly be described as a “great” record, but it at least demonstrated that the four members of Greta Van Fleet each have minds of their own, minds that were capable of improving upon their disastrous debut effort and differentiating themselves from the never ending ‘70s-hard rock comparisons and parallels. If Starcatcher
’s tabula rasa of an album cover is any indication, the band have tossed all of that worthwhile artistic progression aside on their third full-length, electing to start from scratch with a ten-track snoozefest so exhausting that completing a decathlon likely requires similar levels of endurance. Any deviation from the norm present on Garden’s Gate
has vanished and been replaced with the same shoehorned-in blues soloing, plagiarized Bonham chops, and pitiable yelping that made Greta Van Fleet such a derided meme in the first place, with midway interlude “Runway Blues” even sounding like an intentional theft of “Four Sticks” in parts. Garden’s Gate
may not have been a success, but the comparative lack of originality on Starcatcher
makes the former look like an experimental rock opus. Unfortunately, the performances have begun to regress as well; vocalist Josh Kiszka is the biggest offender here, as every high note now sounds like it makes his throat hurt, and his use of vibrato on tracks like opener “Fate of the Faithful” is all the proof you need that the experience machine you’re in could benefit from some troubleshooting. The album never manages to find its footing, even as the tracklist reaches a climax; downtempo epics like “Meeting the Master” are meant to captivate and tug at the listener’s heartstrings, but instead evoke laughter and eye-rolling. This deep into the record, it’s impossible to suddenly begin taking the band seriously.
That’s about it, really; Starcatcher
is such a derivative and bland record that it’s genuinely difficult for me to find the words to discuss it. “It sounds like this” or “it reminds me of that” feel like a cheap cop-out method of criticizing this music, and it also makes me feel as though I’m disrespecting whichever band or song I compare it to. It’s a record so entrenched in referencing other music that it ceases to be artistic expression, and is entirely separated from expression as a concept, floating in its own sterility. Looks like it’s back to the drawing board for whichever craven startup CEO cooked this one up in the experience machine; you won’t be able to unplug fast enough.