Theories of Flight is a delightfully surprising and quite beautifully crafted mosaic of poignant lyrics and powerful, captivating music whose ultimate strength comes from being taken together rather than as a collection of individual tracks. Repeated listens bring a dawning realisation that the album has a startling elegance and finesse, one which is infused with a listless spirit of almost soul-weary restlessness and an aching yearning for somewhere called ‘home’.
Lead singer and lyricist Ray Alder builds stark and arresting conceptual landscapes which focus on themes of change – changes in our lives, the myriad different choices, decisions and directions we take, fleeting moments, transient places and experiences, all of which create a feeling of being without roots, without foundation, of drifting and the need for a place where we can find safety, security and a sense of belonging. The past is always with us and we carry its ghosts as memories in facing the future.
Yet to really begin to get to grips with and immerse yourself in this album, I strongly suggest starting with Track 7 – The Ghosts of Home. Not only was this the original title for the album but the track itself, first penned as “Home Again”, is deeply autobiographical of the experiences of composer and guitarist Jim Matheos growing up as a child, constantly moving from place to place, changing schools, changing homes and the formative affect of this on his own sense of identity.
These deep-seated experiences reverberate throughout the album bringing a lyrical unity which finds echoes at the artistic and musical levels as well. The cover artwork, created by U.S. artist Graceann Warn, including the title as it appears, resonated with Matheos as being a far better description of the experiences of moving, escapes, being uprooted, which are embodied in and reflected across the songs on the album. The title of the recording duly changed to match the title of the artwork.
The track itself, running at the best part of 11 minutes, is also a great place to start in terms of being a perfect microcosm of the scale of the musical breadth and vision characteristic of all the tracks on the album. There is a raw, honest, biting dynamism which builds brooding and melancholic textures that seep emotions and percolate feelings of resignation, despondency, uncertainty and even dejection. Melodic tranquillity organically segues to punchy, energetic attack, mirroring the narrative momentum which speaks of brief periods of rest and relative stability followed by frantic episodes of movement and flight.
Indeed, the album as a whole has a remarkable quality and consistency which is doubtless aided by the confidence of having the same band members playing together from the previous release, 2013’s excellentDarkness In A Different Light. Joey Vera on bass and Bobby Jarzombek on drums are a formidable combination who supply much of the menace and movement driving the assured pulse of the music. Alder’s vocals are the consummate partner for the compelling guitar work provided by Matheos. They are joined on guitar by occasional member Frank Aresti (on tracks 1 and 5) and touring member Michael Abdow (on track 5), both of whom contribute solos which tingle and excite in equal measure.
Theories of Flight is a fascinating and compelling musical adventure which grows suitably stronger with successive listens. There are, to my mind at least, no weak links here in what is a tremendously well conceived and intelligently executed progressive exploration of peculiarly modern and increasingly common issues and experiences. The music is compelling without being overwhelming; it is inventively diverse and satisfyingly rewarding. Certainly time is needed for it to properly ‘sink in’, but when it does you will find yourself simultaneously hopelessly and happily hooked.