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The Book Of Knots - Traineater CD (album) cover

TRAINEATER

The Book Of Knots

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.78 | 12 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer
3 stars This album was certainly a grower for me. I bought it after reading high praise for it, and as a result after my first listen I'll admit I was disappointed. The album seemed disjointed and there seemed to be a lot of filler without too many really standout tracks. However, as I've listened to it more and more the album has taken on a much higher level of holistic quality in my mind, and while I might not consider it the masterpiece that others do, it's definitely a solid album and one that definitely rewards repeated listening.

"View From The Watertower" begins the album on a wildly experimental note, with abrasive guitars and industrial sounds creating an atonal, barely rhythmic instrumental section over which some half-spoken, half-wailed vocals are, well, wailed. The lyrics are incredibly bleak (as is much of the rest of the album) and along with the harsh instrumentals set up the feeling of hopelessness and confinement that pervades so much of the album. Despite having an incredibly disjointed structure to it, the song comes off as a complete statement while also convincing those looking for easy listening or cohesive melodies to look somewhere else.

"Hands of Production" begins sounding very much like something off of Henry Cow's Western Culture, which isn't entirely surprising given the conceptual focus of both albums on industry. However, "Hands of Production" keeps it interesting by including some old-timey narration, and working with more accessible music than the opening, which results in "Hands of Production" sounding like a sort of dystopic public service announcement designed to convince people to be happy about society's progression in a society where nothing is progressing and no one is happy.

"Traineater" has a very folky feel to it, with acoustic guitar only minimally accompanied by other sounds and some very emotive vocals courtesy of (presumably) Carla Kihlstedt. The instrumental part stays more or less constant throughout the song's 5 minute run-time, and as a result it's entirely up to the vocals to make the song. Fortunately, they absolutely succeed, ranging from throaty, depressed crooning to airy, delicate falsetto. This title track is without a doubt one of the strongest stand-alone tracks on the album, and it's a testament to the power of minimalism and good writing over exorbitant displays of virtuosity and excess.

"Pray" is what industrial music would sound like if it were entirely acoustic. Making stellar use of a variety of percussion sounds, jangly, slightly atonal guitars, and the vocal talents of none other than Tom Waits, it's another track that perfectly captures a feeling of hopelessness and manages to come off remarkably listenable despite its decidedly idiosyncratic construction.

"Pedro To Cleveland" is another very experimental track, starting off with a voice-over before crashing into some almost doom-y guitar chords. Sections of spoken word pop up throughout the short track, as do increasingly harsh and heavy instrumental segments. The track definitely feels more like an interlude to me than it does like a fully developed idea; however, in the course of the album as a whole it fits in very well and it leads into "Red Apple Boy" excellently. This latter track again returns to a sort of folk feel, with very simple instrumentation and the vocals doing most of the heavy lifting to move the song along. Unlike the delicate vocals of "Traineater," however, the vocals here are heavy and distorted, almost as if they're being sung underwater. Nonetheless, they work very well with the understated instrumentation.

"Where'd Mom Go?" is another track that's simply fraught with despair. With more delicate female vocals accompanied for much of the track only by what sounds like an accordion, the song manages to be incredibly tender and heart wrenching all in one. When some spare piano is introduced towards the end of the track, the feeling only intensifies, building even as the track falls off to a simple drone.

"The Ballad of John Henry" returns to a much heavier sound, with static pounding riffs and other abrasive sounds of unknown origin serving as the majority of the sound behind the narrative lyrics. Some extremely understated keyboards help aid the track's sense of melody despite the fact that the lyrics are half-spoken and the riffing is more or less homogeneous, and some additional orchestration towards the end of the song brings it to a climactic finale before the song concludes with some faint locomotive sounds.

"Midnight" is one of the more accessible songs on the album, though with this disc that's not necessarily saying to much. With spoken-word narration and a surprisingly melodic chorus playing back and forth, there are times that this song reminds me of the Mars Volta despite the drastically different vocal style. A very cool violin solo makes an appearance as well, and a driving, insistent percussion part keeps the song moving along with a good sense of urgency to balance out the relatively melodic nature of the track.

"Boomtown" moves onto yet another completely idiosyncratic style, with rhythmic spoken word vocals delivered over a bass part that can almost be called groovy with a straight face. A heavier sound is made use of for the chorus, with nearly shouted vocals and the same kind of abrasive, industrial instrumental parts that appeared in the first track.

"Salina" begins with another very delicate section, featuring a guitar part that's both slightly dissonant and beautifully atmospheric and those same killer vocals that made the title track so great. Here, however, the fragility is interspersed with harshness, and when the vocals move into a more powerful style to match, it's a watershed moment for the album. The whole song sounds incredibly dramatic, and I would definitely say it's an emotional climax of the album, in addition to also being one of the more accessible tracks.

"Third Generation Pink Slip" moves back into complete harshness, with driving riffs and more unusual percussion backing up distorted vocals that range from sinister growls to full-on frustrated screams. There's not too much else to say about the track that you wouldn't come to expect from the album at this point, with jangling, abrasive instrumentals that primarily serve as a consistent backdrop for the vocals.

"Hewitt-Smithson" is another extremely interesting track on this extremely interesting album. The song is essentially just a spoken-word monologue over some faint music that recalls the sounds of industry; however, despite my general distaste for spoken-word sections in albums this track actually works remarkably well. Telling the story of a woman who has come to hate the industrial-town life that she once found charming, the lyrics are delivered with appropriate vitriol and the music, while not the highlight of the track by any means, keeps it from getting boring or sounding overly dramatic.

"Walker Percy Evans High School" serves as an outro of sorts for the album, consisting only of minimalistic sound effects and spare electronic noises. Taken alone it's certainly nothing special, but it works very well in the course of the album as a whole and it's a fine way to close the album.

Overall, Traineater is more than the sum of its parts. There are few songs that will make you sit up and say "wow, this is fantastic" (at least, none of them did that for me), but taken as a whole the album is a pleasantly varied, surprisingly cohesive journey. In my personal opinion, this is by no means an essential album, but if you're ever looking for something challenging then I think Traineater will provide a rewarding listen.

3/5

VanVanVan | 3/5 |

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