Review by Rachel Jablonski
Art forms can be found almost anywhere – books, movies, paintings, music, culinary dishes, technical inventions, you name it. Though each and every art form is important no matter the level of experience, motivation, or intrigue, each is not necessarily “artistic.” Thought-provoking, unique, conceptual ideas seem to be further and further lost in the midst of vast minds soaked in popular culture. But conceptual art does still exist and continues to be formed. Creative genius Kevin Moore (Ex-Dream Theater) and his musical assemble Chroma Key have proven this to be so with their third release Graveyard Mountain Home.
In his loneliness and out of his longing, an idea occurred to Andrew. If he could fix his mother’s radio, perhaps he could bring her back to life.
According to Chroma Key’s bio, this scenario is the premise of “one of many ‘social guidance’ films produced in the 50’s and early 60’s for schools and police departments called Age 13.” It is also the foundation for Graveyard Mountain Home, a work aimed to musically complement and also challenge scenes from the pre-existing film. Though the concept of creating an album coinciding with a movie is not new (one of my favorite albums, Failure’s Fantastic Planet, reportedly coincides with film for instance) the effort is not simplistic and thus admirable from many standpoints.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Moore is the way in which he frequently incorporates art within art. When Dead Air for Radios, the first release from Chroma Key, was introduced to me by my Dream Theater fanatical friend, a song called “Turn the Page” immediately struck me. The concept of written word on a page intermixed with the music is stimulating. Ironically, the woman’s monologue at the beginning of the song paints a familiar picture in my head, a similar situation if I remember right involving Kilgore Trout at a Science Fiction Convention in a Kurt Vonnegut book I’ve read. But perhaps the immense intrigue stems mostly from my own attempt, meager as it may be, to incorporate descriptive writing with music as well. There is no doubt that Moore challenges his mind and musical abilities in all of his work as the new release again triggers a similar abstract attraction in its own unique way.
Listening to the album stand alone for the first time you may not be much impressed. The music is solemn and somewhat confusing as the tracks run from one to another without much build and in seemingly senseless patterns. The album starts out with radio advertisements from ordinary people trying to sell something they own; something like you might hear on AM radio. Throbbing bass and xylophone-like sound progressions carry the track and initiate the listener with some unknown storyline.
Rain, thunder, and dogs barking begin track 2 along with distant vocal samples. Samples such as these – lots of thunder and rain sounds, monologues, pieces potentially from the film, and other effects – persist throughout the album. Clearly the album is very conceptual. The music would more than likely make further sense given the context of each song. Having previously seen or simultaneously watching Age 13 most definitely would help the listener along. However, I have found that the more times the album is listened to and the more it is concentrated upon the better it becomes and the more sense that it makes. Even not having seen the intended film, a film develops in the listener's mind regardless. The stimulating sounds of Graveyard Mountain Home are effective allowing mental images to be intensely vivid. The listener may feel as if emerged in the scene either by mentally creating characters and setting or by somehow watching him or herself in the staring role.
Having just finished reading The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole, I cannot help but draw parallels between my visions of scenes from the book and Graveyard Mountain Home. The premise of the book is also about a young boy who goes through adversity; the death of his mother and father, religious, racial, social, and sexual bigotry, confusion, sacrifice, and overall is not given much of a chance at life. The images of this young boy attempting to survive in a closed-minded small town, the vivid hills and scenery described, the radio he and his mother listen to during the war, and other descriptions depict parallels with my album experience. Though it seems I may be impressionable in the sense that I am relating two different things I have been experiencing around the same time, I find the comparisons to be awesome and having not seen Age 13 I appreciate the album more through this alternate association.
Ultimately, there is only one way through which these images are made apparent of course and that is through the music. Though I love the incorporation of samples to enhance imagery and concept, overall the music is what paints the picture. There are many different elements to this musical piece as a whole, but the overall feel is somewhat calm and bleak. Yet throughout, a distant brightness prevails whether via musical tone or mental imagery in a very subtle way. Many tracks are soft and gentle, almost lullaby like, with the soft guitars, keys, drumming, and smooth vocals from Moore. Acoustic work and staccato percussion are frequent as well, but seem faint as if in the background even though technically this is the musical focal point.
Graveyard Mountain Home will not make complete sense and is not overwhelming at first listen. (That is unless you see the film Age 13 prior to or along with the album potentially). But with increased spins, as time goes on the concepts and mental images will thrive absorbingly and effectively through the musical medium.