“I am convinced,” Nietzche wrote, “that art represents the highest task and the truly metaphysical activity of this life.” Though he wrote this in a preface to his first work, The Birth of Tragedy, he was certainly not referring only to the written word — an art that few can claim more ownership of than him. That preface was written by none other than Richard Wagner, and though Nietzche would sour on him later in life, this profound appreciation for art in a broad sense would not end. The love of aesthetic creation, the belief in its power to affect the heart and erode human differences, is the very core of In Contact, a starry-skied series of extended vignettes on love and revolution, passion and loss, fragility and courage, rain-soaked in the joy of creation.
In Contact plots a far-sighted course from the beginning, curving and spiraling through a storybook landscape of alternative rock, metal, and prog, off the beaten path yet ever pressing fearlessly forward. The weight against which all such albums are judged is Fair to Midland‘s swansong, Arrows and Anchors: a short-haired tornado, whipped up in tears poured out to a bout of equal parts whisky and ritalin. Based only on previous work from Caligula’s Horse, there was no immediate suggestion of In Contact equaling such a masterpiece – I expected only another fun, memorable flourish like Bloom. But with each listen I’ve grown to appreciate this incredibly ambitious, startlingly successful love letter to beauty and compassion even more.
The intertwined narratives of the album, of love, art, and resistance, are laid bare in the dramatic spoken word of “Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall,” but all make recurring surges towards the fore. The bleary-eyed croon of “Capulet” breathes a sigh of devotion across warm organs and a gentile guitar, while “The Hands Are the Hardest1” springs into life cast by a Haken-esque muse. There’s a distinct sound and energy to every song of In Contact, and each piece seems vital – both necessary and alive. But of course there are standouts — the most spectacular of which is the album’s centerpiece “Songs for No One.” The song is every bit a continuation of the sound from Bloom – and it has been perfected. The playful rhythms, angular guitar leads and unforgettable chorus all point towards an undisputed ‘song of the year.’
The passion with which these songs were written shines through in the performances, and the band gives the impression that they went in the studio completely enamored with their material. Sam Vallen’s guitar solos and leads have a sense of exuberance and Josh Griffin’s drumming is equal parts power and joy. But of course, stunningly passionate lyrical delivery from Jim Grey could make you forget all about them. The man’s voice seems categorically captivating and his storytelling binds together a disparate set of stories united, as he says we all are, by their reach. By repeating phrases and themes, he ties songs together into the separate bundles that constitute In Contact‘s four chapters.
Even more spectacular than its melodies or exemplary performances is the sheer humanity of In Contact. It seems to catch every stray sunbeam reflected off of the surface of life and savor their light. Surely we are living in the decaying world of What Passes for Survival, but beyond cognizance and resistance, how can we answer those terrors of life? To put it in a more directly Nietzschean context, what are we to do in a broken world with a dead god? In Contact answers, with all the authority it can muster: love! create! share! sing! It is all any of us can do, and if that seems no solution, even the most resolutely negative among us perhaps will perhaps reconsider when prompted by Freddy himself:
“You oughta learn to laugh, my young friends, if you are hell-bent on remaining pessimists.”