Distant Lights- “Simulacrum”

As you listen to this CD, you never know quite what to expect from moment to moment, except that it will most likely be wonderful. Simulacrum is a complex, layered progressive rock opus based on Plato’s allegory of the Cave. It also features Jon Dexter, the cellist from 2006’s “A Scanner Darkly,” and it’s his fantastic string work that, more than anything else gives this band a complexity and uniqueness that puts it above the competition. His intro to “Artiface,” itself one of the better tracks on the album, is spellbinding, and the fact that the song then takes a positively hardcore turn with pounding vocals and wild guitar riffs makes it even better, because everything always feels like an integrated, genuine whole. This same principle turns songs that would otherwise be fairly standard tunes into orchestral, theatrical tour de forces. This band is musical in the most sophisticated sense.

Vocals by Gabriel Fry are good; his range is an asset as he handles quieter, hushed numbers with the same skill with which he can scream out the lines. He knows when to take center stage and when to let his words serve as backing, such as in Grass, where the spotlight seems to shift between Fry’s excellent voice and Dexter’s brilliant cello. The result is something that’s soothing, even as it demands every bit of your attention. The magic of this album is as much with how everything blends together as with any one element, even though the elements are very good.

More than a lot of albums, even very good ones, this CD feels like it’s taking you on a journey, musically and emotionally. The “concept album” nature is definitely on display here, and the slower or quieter bits are well paced enough that they never feel boring in comparison to the wild, shouting bits.

It’s an ambitious debut album which has enough in it to warrant several listenings, and reveals new things each time. Rarely do so many disparate elements get fused together so strongly, and when their held up by the infrastructure of interesting ideas and a high level of technical skill, all the better. [By: Ryan Simmons]
Rating: 5/5
Release Date: June 20, 2008

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