It’s exhilarating to hear an actual dyed in the wool rock band tackling a concept album in the year 2020. This once ballyhooed form of album, intended to demonstrate rock and roll’s growing artistic bonafides in a world doubtful of its seriousness, has long since been demeaned as frivolous showboating or a sign of rock bands losing the plot.
It isn’t the case with Elsewhere’s Life… is a Fraction. The ten track conceptual release reeks of self-conscious ambition but follows up on it. It’s Elsewhere’s big bid to elicit the sort of global critical attention and respect that doesn’t come along often and can be parlayed into a measure of mainstream success. It remains to be seen. Perhaps above all else, the band has written and recorded an album release they can take to their graves as representative of their talents at this point in life.
“Restless”, the concept album’s first cut, describes their creative attitude. It’s clear that Elsewhere, led by guitarist/vocalist Michael Aroian, are riding on a musical high right now that likely outstrips any previous band experience in a run that’s seen several memorable moments already. The band is a trio but they don’t hesitate incorporating keyboards/synths into the musical mix for this album and, given its subject matter, they practically have no choice.
“In Search of the Unknown” is certainly one of Life… is a Fraction’s peak moments and provides an early illustration of one of the album’s greatest strengths. Despite the arguable pretentiousness of a “storyline” about a hero who stumbles upon one of time’s central tenets and the resulting hubbubaloo, Elsewhere’s songwriting never drones on. Each of the ten tracks they’ve composed for this release is to the point and avoids bloat.
Aroian’s guitar sound deserves particular praise. It’s gritty without ever sounding discordant. The lack of abrasiveness in the sound is the crucial part of what makes it such a success because it pops and cracks with audible soul instead of raw power alone. It’s especially important to songs such as “Realization”, one of the collection’s best rockers, and bassist Kevin Swaluk and drummer Adam Soucy blast away without ever weakening the track’s foundation. Their elastic yet always steady playing is a likely underrated part of what listeners love about the band’s music and their contributions stand out particularly well here.
“It’s Happening Now” thunders with the same hard rock firepower, but it aren’t a cookie-cutter arrangement. Elsewhere is always shifting things up just enough to keep listener’s engaged without diluting their focus. There’s focus aplenty here. “Finale: The End of Everything” is the album’s last song and it stands out for me as one of Soucy’s best drumming performances. It isn’t quite the “all-time” finish I wanted from the release but it’s still memorable.
Elsewhere adds two songs unconnected with the concept album portion of Life… is a Fraction. There are good arguments for and against their presence on this release but, as songs alone, they are a mixed bag for me. “Call You Out” is the stronger of the two as it’s a churning and intense rock track with an especially punchy refrain. If nothing else, these songs are a final remind of Elsewhere’s unusual skill and power.