Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution - A Call to Arms EP

Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution - A Call to Arms

Following his departure from Catch 22, citing a desire to further his education rather than tour, Tomas Kalnoky began to embark upon writing more ambitious and expansive songs. This included adding classical and folk elements to songs already written, as well as entirely new material that transcended the boundaries of ska as it was hereto known. Utilizing an astonishing variety of instruments and styles, this project of his would eventually be known as the Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution. A total of fifteen people would contribute to the eventual A Call to Arms EP, released in 2001, playing instruments as diverse as the familiar ska sounds of the trombone, trumpet, and saxophone, to the classical string sounds of the viola, cello, and double bass.

The EP begins with a simple introduction, titled "This is a Call to Arms", the name of which, just like the EP itself, is derived from the Ernest Hemingway novel A Farewell to Arms. It comprises of a simple, yet infectious swelling of the horns, interspersed with an acoustic section of harmonic vocal intonations, before both parts speed up in leading into the first full song of the album.

"Here's to Life" was originally written whilst Kalnoky was a member of Catch 22, and would later appear on Streetlight Manifesto's debut album, Everything Goes Numb, two years later. It chronicles the lives and depressions of many of Kalnoky's literary and artistic heroes (as seen in the footnotes in the CD jacket), including J.D. Salinger, Albert Camus, Vincent Van Gogh, as well as the aforementioned Hemingway. Continuing musically much in the same way as laid out in the previous song, with the same song structure and swelling of the horns, it remains denser and more meaningful in it's arrangement, thanks to Kalnoky's wistful lyrics. He delivers his lines with an intense devotion to the subject at hand, mourning the losses of these artistically tortured and withdrawn men.

The next song is a remake of a song not just written, but performed and recorded while in Catch 22, "Dear Sergio". It plays out like a more traditional example of third-wave ska, bursting from the seams with energy while retaining the appeal of a pop song at its core. Where it improves upon the original is in it's acoustic guitar work, which compliments the brass of the horns far better than in the original, as well as an additional verse that further flushes out the theme of the song, railing against the cause-and-effect of obligations in modern society.

The first song performed exclusively to the EP is the fourth track, "It's a Wonderful Life". The song is a laid-back and somewhat jaunty tune, almost oblivious to the underlying threat it faces. The story told is of a man going to war, likely either the first or second world war or the Spanish Civil War (just judging by Kalnoky's usual subject matters), who is fondly reminiscing over the times he spent with his wife. The final cry "Oh to die for such a wonderful life" belies the tragedies of war, and instead draws attention on the what the main character is willing to give up to protect what he holds dear. The focus seems to be on the sacrifice itself, made great by the larger picture it represents, shown by the flashbacks to his wife and to all his treasured memories. Just the fact that he could feel so strongly about someone makes the sacrifice worthwhile, and makes life worth living, no matter what perils may await on the battlefield.

The final song, and in many ways the best song, is the rather verbosely-titled "They Provide the Paint for the Picture-Perfect Masterpiece That You Will Paint on the Inside of Your Eyelids". It begins with an ominous acoustic guitar part, highlighted by Kalnoky's equally quiet and understated singing. This part follows a second-hand account of an old man, paranoid and detached from society, warning the speaker never to become too trustful of the powers that be. Eventually, the music picks up in pace dramatically, horns flowing and swelling with passion, lending a sense of the epic to the whole affair. The lyrics are top notch, spewed so fast the listener can barely keep up. They reference a number of anecdotes as related by the speaker, that are similar in tone to the tale of the old man. One is about a boy who "wanted to be a soldier in the next great war, he wanted to kill and fight and maim but not be told what he was fighting for", and the other verses are just as dour in tone. The speaker is greatly concerned about what he sees around him, and goes back to the memory of the old man as a sort of prelude to his own cynical beliefs about the people and world around him. What comes out of it is an anthemic tale of paranoia and pessimism in relation to society.

A Call to Arms is to date, BOTAR's only release, but its innovation lives on. This EP pushes the boundaries of what ska is, and by doing so, creates a unique and enjoyable collection of songs. Kalnoky's ambition and drive for perfection is both what fuels these songs, as well as what has kept the band from as of yet releasing any further material. As is, we'll just have to make do with this for the time being.

This is a call to arms

1 comment:

RK said...

Thanks for this brilliant review -- it should be up in my top search results instead of that Wikipedia article.

I loved the last bit the most. :)