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Fierce, Undying Hope – “Rebuilding Society on a Shoestring Budget” from A Cloud of Ravens Side-Project Dystopiarch

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It is said that April is the cruelest month and though the poet had his reasons – despair in the face of a relentless renewal that in its incipient bloom of optimism only promises decay and loss and ultimately death death and more death – it is this writer’s contention that ol’ TS missed the mark by a good three monthhs as almost certainly January better deserves to wear that dark and tarnished crown. While on the one hand it’s not unlikely that the good Mr. Eliot might well agree with this reassessment seeing as he himself slipped beneath the mortal veil on just the fifth day of the new year 1965, and on the other the guy sitting here, pen in hand and headphones on, just celebrated his 68th birthday on the eigth day of our current year so naturally harbors some affection for the two-faced bastard of a month, it nonetheless remains the case that January, if not the cruelest month is at least, especially in terms of new music, the stingiest.

Now, from a marketing standpoint, of course, it makes perfect sense. We’ve all been stressed and over-stimulated for weeks by this time, to the point that we end up with what amounts to a collective hangover both literal and figurative. We get it. Eveyone just wants to hibernate, or so the thinking goes, but for some of us – not least us here at SEM – we think that thinking is in woeful need of an update. Not just to appease our tireless desires, though be assured that’s no small thing, but, for one, because of just the sheer oppotunity offered by this ongoing cultural siesta and, for two, in this era of go-go-go twenty-four seven stimulation, why are we still mired in this quaint fallacy of a January lull? Fuck that, we want music, damn it (preferably dark to match our winter mood), and thankfully Matthew McIntosh from A Cloud of Ravens has stepped into the breach with the debut collection from his solo side project Dystopiarch that dropped into our eager clutches as if from heaven this past Friday, January 12th.

Called, with a touch of wounded promise, Rebuilding Society on a Shoestring Budget, all the proceeds derived from the album’s sales, as was the case with its four pre-released singles (all included here), are being funneled directly to war relief for citizens caught in the innocent crossfire of the Mideast conflict and thus, no doubt by virtue of that pressing need, the songs here arrive with a bolder, more ‘by necessity’ stridency of sound than heard in the no-less-compelling Ravens.

Storming through the gate with a trembling, fraught momentum, “Broad Strokes,” in no-nonsense, template-setting fashion, grabs one’s attention by the lapels with no intention of letting go, McIntosh’s vocals that vital – and powerful – combination of being boldly in your face and from the empassioned depths of a heart as hurt and angry as anyone’s that’s paying the least attention to the world as it falls to its knees around us. With that, we’re off and as expected there’s no let-up.

Setting off with a pulse both a bit ominous and more than a bit compulsive, “Pale New World” manages that not easy feat of coming across as hypnotic and breathless with a desperate hope. “Disco Famine,” besides being a fabulous song title we all wish we’d thought of, is a of a piece with its predecessor – and here’s a handy opportunity to mention Rebuilding‘s track flow that carries the listener through the album entire on a contiguous, dare we say contagious, ride – with a haunt to it that manages to twine together optimism and its opposite like they’re twins separated at birth before “Like Hell” comes charging into the fore with an ability that’s delicate with abandon if that makes sense and in this case, and rather in context of the record throughout, it certainly does.

And we could go on.

“Go Big,” thunderous, deft, think the Sisters as if they’d never aged, “Next Top Model,” relentless and hurt and here’s a stanza for ya “Is nothing still sacred?/we’re counting your cards like rainmen//we’re our own dead heroes/now go and start from zero” then ends with “set fire to the bridge then run like hell” to which we can only say ‘say no more, say no more.’ But of course we must, for a moment we must, at least to mention how it all ends here on a note that’s truly final. Like a ruined prayer pinning all its hopes on a grim wish for redemption, “Last Chance to Dance,” with a kind of on-edge luminosity, lays it as all out there as its title suggests then leaves it there as if it were something survivors might stumble upon, rummage through, and perhaps find something to hold on to.

Akin to the situation the suffering from which this record’s proceeds are meant to help mitigate, the overarching tone of Rebuilding Society on a Shoestring Budget is one where hope – fierce, undying – is the only weapon of choice, our only means of steeling ourselves against the countless challenges confronting us existential and otherwise, as if to say faith is faith is hope is strength, history and theological posturing be damned. Also? It’s just a fucking strong record. [grab it here]