In my third year of university I took a course in quantum mechanics. It was taught by a phenomenal professor. His ability to rigorously convey often challenging topics was unmatched. Unlike other professors who often attempted to interact with the class, this gent was all business; with one notable exception. During one class we were discussing wave forms in general. After a pause he made a remark about his other passion: the violin. He continued to say that when music is played, it is just sounds. It is vibrations, no different than any other wave. Once a conscious mind is added to the equation, the purely physical phenomena of sound is converted into an experience, with that experience being unique to the observer alone. This off-topic philosophical comment struck me as important. He continued with the lecture while I recorded his remark in the margin of my notes. Its significance still strikes me to this day.
When I listen to music, what I’m looking for is the experience it provides. It might prompt a memory or paint a picture in your mind; it may accelerate your heart beat and make you want to party. Whatever the response is, the fact that there was a response means the music is well crafted. How could it be otherwise?
I could go off on a tangent and write on this topic until you grow so bored you hurl blunt objects at your screen. Perhaps you already are. So, I shall bring it back to what is important. The Lunar Pilots. On the twenty-fourth of February, 2013, they released their first full length album, Point of No Return. Prior to listening to the album as a whole, I had the pleasure of being acquainted with the single High as the Stars. I instantly fell in love with, including it on my AMBY playlists on two occasions. It was a song I wanted others to hear. To be brutally honest, I was drawn to it at first purely because of the album art. Entirely simplistic, it had in crisp font The Lunar Pilots‘ name/logo superposed over a view of space seen high above the earth, the rising sun just visible.
I’m very much a physics geek, and the Universe and its understanding is my hobby. I watch theoretical physics lectures on Saturday nights when I should be exercising what is left of my years to enjoy any sort of night-life. But, that’s just me. When I played High as the Stars for the first time, the vision of the art, the thoughts and wonder of the universe, and the music combined. The song is upbeat. The vocals speak of modernity while the instrumentals a throwback to the past. In general, I hear hints of Pink Floyd‘s Any Colour You Like dabbled through the instrumentation. It was a perfect entry point.
When the album hit its release date it was with great anticipation that I listened. I live a very hectic and busy life with a demanding job and home-life consisting of a lovely wife and four amazing children. Lovely as it may be, it is loud and hectic. So, when I want to really allow the music to absorb me, I wait until late at night when the house is quiet, the neighbourhood is asleep, and it is just me. Through that whole day I held off listening to Point of No Return. On my bus ride from work I resisted the urge. Having tasted it through High as the Stars I knew it warranted my full attention.
I live in Canada, and it was late February. It was bloody cold. Outside the night was crisp and more stars were visible than is typical in my area. I bundled up, grabbed a coffee, my headphones, and sat outside in the quiet of the night. Not a single neighbour had a visible light in their house. It was just me, the open night sky, my sense of wonder and The Lunar Pilots. As the sounds streamed through my ears and I sat, feet up, head pointed to the stars, it was the experience I anticipated. It was a journey. High as the Stars provided me with an open window – a static snapshot of the whole. As I progressed from track to track, there was a cohesiveness and vision. A true sign of a good album.
My favourite albums all have a flow. They tell a story lyrically, or they build musically on one another. Listening to The Lunar Pilots I began at my small spot in the universe, looking out. My mind wandered with the music. The music moved on a definite and well calculated trajectory. The movement from track to track was fluid and natural. It did not seem forced, but rather, just was. I let my mind wander as I always do when star gazing. I wobbled back and forth between the elegance of the universe as a wonder, and the elegance in our understanding of it as a beautiful physical system. Pins and Needles played in the background. My favourite track on the album at present. Its the tempo and the changes in instrumentation, the interplay between the lyrical and the instrumental. It gives a sense of hope but also a mystique. I find it difficult to verbalise.
By the time I concluded the album my coffee was cold. I realised how cold I was too. Start to end, Point of No Return sketched an amazing journey. To me, the experience combined so many things I love in life. It combined my love of instrumentation first heard in the likes of Pink Floyd, Camel, and Tangerine Dream. It had an overall intelligence emanating it without feeling pretentious. It conveyed positivity, hope, and moreover, wonder.
I’d intended this to be an album review. But, as I began to write in the traditional format for a review, I was reminded of my former professor’s words on music. You and I hear the same sounds. Physically, our auditory systems produce the same data that is processed within our minds. How it is processed (what feelings it evokes, our reactions) is entirely unique to the person. The strength of the music is its ability to elicit a response. Reviews detailing the quality of the music from a technical perspective are good. They speak to a band’s skill. But they leave out this important point of experience and reaction. The Lunar Pilots created a cohesive album that for me was a journey. The strong imagery, the contemplative thoughts, and the feel speak volumes of the music. A sign of good music is the reaction and response. This qualifies Point of No Return on the high end of the spectrum.
Michael Dakin //