The Great Depression – Forever Altered

Forever AlteredThe music industry isn’t easy to break into. While there are thousands of artists made famous by television and radio, there are a ten times more that you’ve never heard of. And in these vast haystacks of struggling, desperate obscurity, there are only a few needles. Out of ninety-nine average, perhaps even revolting acts, one stands out and simply blows you away. With their new LP Forever Altered, The Great Depression did just that. It is a thin, pointy piece of metal waiting to be found amidst a stack of garbage.

Founded in 1996 by Todd Casper (vocals, piano) and Thomas Cranley (synths) in Madison, Wisconsin, the group is now based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Joining them on this release are Jacob Kofler (bass) and Al Fleming (drums). Most of the band also play guitar. Their previous work has been hailed as “fitfully gorgeous,” “hauntingly beautiful,” “lush” and “apocalyptic”. Forever Altered, a forty minute odyssey of symphonic, heartfelt and constantly interesting pop music, is no different. It is a marvel.

Within the opening seconds of the title track, you know this is will be a great record. The crashing piano, guitars, strings and vocals are a fantastic cascade comparable to the grandiose production of Brian Wilson. The track is like a less weird Super Furry Animals, and you’ll sing along as the first listen progresses. It’s that catchy and stunning. “Stolen” is a bit slower and more subtle as (I assume) Casper whispers to the listener his tale. Its waltz time give it a retro feel and the combination of sampling and high pitched piano notes provide a lot of emotion. Melodically, an influence of Radiohead is apparent, and that’s never a bad thing. The track ends with beautiful orchestration, and “Holes In All Your Stories” begins. The acoustic arpeggio and bass accompaniment reminds one of Death Cab for Cutie (who are great themselves), but it is certainly not copying them. The stretching harmonies are like a faster, more intricate No-Man. Without notice, the track fades into “It Happens During Transit.”

The opening whistling (yes, whistling) that plays over the warming music is very uplifting, and is an unexpected technique like SFA would use. There are also swirling trumpets with crescendos and quiet moments of peace. “A Pale Light” has a mournful cello as the guitar plays the same notes every so often as a tape loop swirls. It’s reminiscent of slow building Porcupine Tree songs like “Buying New Soul.” At the half way point, the drums and vocals crash in as the tempo increases. It segues into “Ill Prepared,” whose sad, reflective guitar melody is like the most affective tracks from Yoshimi Battle the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips (one of my favorite albums). It, like so much of Forever Altered, makes you want to stop in place and appreciate how beautiful music can be.

“Throw Me The Ropes” has the strong melody of a Blackfield track with a very slight hip hop beat to it. It’s wonderfully dense with classical instruments. “Gauzy Systems” is piano based with sampled electronics. It also shows the influence of The Flaming Lips, but also the sorrow of more recent Anathema. “They’re Making Us Look Green” begins with the verse immediately, and encompasses you. It’s a bittersweet track before the simply amazing closer, “Colliding (Into What Might Have Been).” It’s the longest track by two minutes, but the band makes use of it by creating the album’s most diverse and deep track. The piano sings a poignant riff as the strings and guitar chords provide reinforcement. Eventually the vocals come in with simple but crushing words. Eventually the track goes through a brief interlude before the reprise of the album’s opening crashing piano, bringing the disc full circle. As a listener, you feel the same drop in your stomach as when on a rollercoaster once you realize the brilliance of this. The disc ends, and we’re left in awe.

There’s no more praise I could give for Forever Altered. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but it combines the unique traits from the best pop bands of the last forty years into a glorious experience. For a band called The Great Depression, they create joyous, wonderful music, plain and simple. After my first listening, I knew I would be a fan and have to hear all their previous material and let it wash over me like sunlight. I have little doubt that after hearing Forever Altered, you will too.