Last year, Falling Up released possibly their best album to date, Your Sparkling Death Cometh. Earlier this year, the band threw a bone to fans in the form of the hit and miss remix project Mnemos. Now, Falling Up is using their independence to release their newsiest endeavor in a unique way. Their Machine De Ella Project is broken up into two releases: Hours and Midnight to Earthship. Fans can subscribe to either one or both of the projects and acquire the songs as they are released (which are about three a month or so for each developing album). Each album is vastly different so I'm going to focus on Hours here.
Hours is one half an audiobook written and read by Jessy Ribordy and one half the soundtrack to the novella. Although the cryptic lyrics didn't appear to have much in the way of correlation with the chapters of the audio book, some of the lyrics are just starting to make sense.
The tone of the music draws from Your Sparkling Death Cometh, and there have been hints of an influence from Fangs as well. "The Contract" features much of the foundation that has defined Falling Up's recent music, and it works as a good experimental rock song. However, "The Climb" is a little dry by comparison, and the solid bridge isn't enough to overcome its largely uninspired tune. Your Sparkling… and Fangs meet in the electric guitar driven "Finn Hatches A Plan," and its high-energy chorus is great. Ribordy's vocals are more emotional in "The Rest Will Soon Follow," and the dreamy, softer music offers a welcomed change of pace. So far, "Aeva And The Waving World" is clearly the best offering on Hours. The haunting bass and vocals are heavily layered in synth, and the ominous atmosphere is among the best Falling Up has ever established.
From the album's first five songs, it's clear that the elongated endings that have defined much of the group's recent work are still very much alive. While I'm usually in favor of longer songs (especially when it comes to one of my favorite artists, like Falling Up), there are times when I wish they'd cut the programming and just end the song so we can move on. Also, with the exception of "Aeva And The Waving World," I feel like we've heard this before from Falling Up. I'm all in favor of a band remaining in their natural element, but the band has proven they have no natural element. Each project from Falling Up has been different, ranging from hard rock, alternative rock, to, now, experimental rock. All those genres have massive frontiers, and the band has done an incredible job carving out the genre wherever they go (sans Crashing which was a bit generic, and some of Dawn Escapes which was a bit repetitive). I'd like to see the seven remaining songs branch out a little more and stand more on their own feet.
Those interested in the paranormal novella will discover a world populated by children in an orphanage. Seth, the child prodigy and leader of the (very mature) six graders, is the protagonist who is chosen to lead his classmates into the mysterious north quarter of the orphanage. For a whole year, every year, the sixth grade class is allowed to do whatever they want in an empty gym for an hour without supervision. Each class before Seth has developed a dangerous game to pass the time, and now it's Seth's turn to come up with something. Although he forms the boldest, most daring plan yet, his game has a good chance of twisting out of control with the deadliest of consequences.
I've been a Falling Up enthusiast from the beginning, and I bought the subscription to Hours for the music. The audiobook was an afterthought, but each subsequent chapter has made me want to dive into the story first. So far, Jessy hasn't tried to develop the characters all that much, but they are interesting enough that we care about them whenever they encounter dubious situations. The writing isn't dazzling, but it doesn't stick out as a drawback either. It simply acts as the vehicle to tell the story. Some disbelief will have to be suspended to fully enjoy the story, as some plot points are just a little hard to swallow. For example, the unlikely romance among eleven year olds is a bit farfetched and did warrant some eye-rolling.
The intriguing aspect of Hours is the story, and the chilling paranormal elements that put the reader/listener on edge. Dark secrets, appearances of apparitions, and an ominous hole in the ground provide enough suspense, but it's the creepy soundtrack that plays in the background that does the most damage to someone's calm.
A word of caution. Although the cast features eleven year olds in the main cast, this is a YA (young adult) tale with some very mature elements. The supernatural occurrences are not at all consistent with God's Word. Just outside the gym, the children invent a machine that enables them to meet death halfway, and the results include teleportation, super strength, and flight of sorts. Then there's the ghost that's beginning to lurk around, and we're getting hints that she's up to no good. Graphic descriptions of dead or dying children are detailed and cringe worthy, and there is already one mild abuse of the Lord's name. The story is enthralling, but worth the plunge...?
A subscription to Hours is $15, and the one to Midnight to Earthship is $10. The packaged deal of both together costs $20, and right now there isn't any other physical or digital outlet to acquire them from. For a Falling Up geek like me, it's a no brainer, but, if you didn't love Your Sparkling Death Cometh, I'd wait until the project is completed before checking it out. It's reasonable to expect where the band is going with the musical side of Hours, but I haven't a clue where the audiobook is headed.
- Nathaniel Schexnayder (11/24/12)