There comes a times in most people's lives when they just don't feel right with the world. Undoubtedly, the adolescent teenage years spark off a lot of emotion and confusion in the minds of young men and women everywhere. Often, these sometimes dark and desperate funks are dealt with the old fashioned way: through a favorite album. Music, no matter what kind, is a pure form of artistic expression that can sympathize like nothing else. When no one else seems to understand the troubles of the world, there's often a song or an entire CD that can connect with a listener like nothing else.
Oft times, this is the ripe age of musical discovery where bands such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, and the Cure reign supreme. All of these are bands that have grappled with the subjects of despair, death, and the woes that seem to sometimes come on a regular basis to a teenager's life. After a fashion, some of these bands can become almost silly to the same person who once lived by their music and lyrics. But it would be hard to estimate just how many copies of Led Zeppelin IV, Dark Side of the Moon, the Doors' debut album, and Disintegration provided a sympathetic soundtrack for many an addled adolescent mind. And by today's standards, you might as well toss in a Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead album in there as well.
However, there's a newer band out there that has seemingly created the most visceral, haunting, and explicitly realistic album out there whose subject matter may just as well have been taken straight from the psyches of any group of 14-18 year olds out there. And that is not to say that all teenagers are troubled. But Audio Explorations' ActionReaction is undoubtedly a grand masterpiece of raw emotion, intense melody, and a very eerie sense of release. An extremely honest piece of work, this album will leave you in awe.
If you're thinking that it must be some kind of growled, over the top bombastic shout fest, then you might be very surprised that the band's music is almost delicate at times, though with no lack of spring-coiled tension knotting every guitar phrase and note. At times, it sounds like the Cure's Seventeen Seconds, Robert Smith and Co.'s finest foray into the darkness before they made an all too long career out of it. But unlike Smith, band members James Tritten and Steven Haley have sculpted a sublimely unnerving set of songs that doesn't go off wandering into surreal landscapes.
The opening track, "Nine Down One To Go", has an incredibly clear sound; the band often favors using the low notes on a standard six-string electric guitar rather than a bass. This adds to the heady mix, as Tritten's guitar is allowed more space to roam throughout the songs and double (or triple, even) its duties as rhythm, lead, and bass instrument. Haley's drumming is always tight -- straightforward and right on time -- with not too much flash. Just enough of a fill here and there, and it's perfect. But it's the lyrics that tell the real tale: "I am the maker of your pain / I'm the hater of your ways / I'm the thinktank to kill you / I am inside your brain". The most unnerving thing about this is Tritten's calm delivery throughout. Not even Thom Yorke could play it this maddeningly low key and be so convincing.
On "Go Away", Tritten sings "No it won't go away / Not until I cut my hand / Now I can't feel my hand / And the pain won't go away / I don't know if I'll see the day / That the pain will go away". Simple and jarring. Infinitely understandable in both language and emotion. "Symphonic Dreams" twists the language around a bit, offering up such thought-provoking lines like "I'll open up my mouth / To hear you sing / One of my many dreams / To hear you sing".
Listen to any song here, and it's a gut punch revelation. "I have spent too much of my existence / Just trying to find me / And where to go / Where to go from here / And who do you know / For real" is a slice of the eye opening sympathies found inside "The Real World". And on "Contemplate Your State", Tritten lets loose and bares his soul completely: "I hate the fucks that are slow / 'Cause they will never know / What the fuck I know / And who am I / You wonder who I am / I wonder who am I". This continued look into the psyche -- be it Tritten's, or perhaps the listener's -- and coming up with only more questions is hard to describe. It's uniquely enjoyable, but you're not sure why. Perhaps it's because we've all felt this way before.
The music twists and turns, with guitars being pressed through various filters and buzzing off somewhere else only to come back and pull it all back together. Like a tight drum, the tunes never stutter. And for some reason, it still sounds warm and humane, not at all mechanical like one might think. On the final two tracks, "Sometimes True" and "Separation", Haley takes the lead vocals, pushing the tension even further as his voice is punched through a vocoder or some sort of processor on the former.
Also included on this album is a great six-minute video to play in your CD-ROM that features the band working on and discussing the album. In perhaps an ironic twist, James Tritten states that they just do the music "for fun", and then he smiles. Indeed, the duo looks like they have a great time, be it working in the studio or playing live with various projections displayed upon them. So for all the lyrical drama on the album, it's still comforting to know that Tritten and Haley are just two average joes having fun making slightly disturbing pieces of art. ActionReaction is probably going to be one of the best albums of 2002 for its vision and to-the-point attitude. "Fun" or not, this is a tremendous recording that everyone should experience.