Cosmograf – Heroic Materials (2022)
Robin Armstrong's project, operating under the name Cosmograf, has already yielded several creditable albums. I own several of these and play them quite regularly, but I have never been fully convinced that an absolute top album has come out of Armstrong's undeniable creativity. I think this is partly due to the fact that I am a bit wary of one-man projects, because they often accept a lot of loss of quality in order to be able to do everything themselves. Few can convince me. At least until now!
My favourite Cosmograf album so far was The unreasonable Silence but with Heroic Materials that is a thing of the past and I dare say that Robin has made his best album to date and has secured himself of a place in my already well-filled year list of 2022.
But how did it come to this all of a sudden?
Apart from the extraordinarily beautiful melodies that appear in all of songs on this album, Armstrong has chosen not to use many heavy parts and to immerse the songs in a very symphonic sauce where the tempo is often a bit lower and this suits his music very well. We already knew that he is a very gifted guitarist and his wonderfully lingering solos are really a treat for the ears, but the keyboard work is also of a very decent level and his arrangements are excellent. Yet you can clearly hear that the guitar is his basic instrument. Only the drumming was not done by Armstrong himself and that is another decisive choice that works out perfectly. Kyle Fenton does a great job without coming to the fore too often, just solid. Guest Danny Manners provides a piece of piano on the title track.
Heroic Materials is again a conceptual album and, as the cover already reveals, war and heroism play an important role in the lyrics, in which British industry and its ingenuity are reoccurring topics. Through some sampled fragments we hear spoken texts about typical English brands such as Jaguar. But there’s also a deeply emotional feeling in songs like Mary and a Better World.
Before we hear the epic title track, we get a short intro, I recall, with a melody that won't get out of your head. Armstrong sings fragile and very high pitched here and just hits it and it is so damn sensitive. Then the lengthy Heroic Materials overwhelms you with all its delicious eruptions on guitar and variety. This must be the best song I ever heard from Cosmograf and is the highlight of the album for me. Very good. A few shorter songs pass by and especially the chauvinistic British made gives me goosebumps again. I know, it gets boring but the guitar solo is again classy. Via the short pieces Mary and Blinkers we arrive at If things don't change and that is the next highlight and here too the melody really gets under your skin. Regretful Refrain is the last real song and as on the entire album the pure rock content remains a bit lower and that is certainly not a disadvantage with Cosmograf. The melody of I recall returns in the short closing A better World. What this is about should be clear and reality teaches us that we have failed to realize this.
No minor points at all?
Well to be honest, I still struggle a little with the fact that it is a one-man job. I miss the energy of interplay between musicians. Maybe a guest here and there would be a good idea. It is also a relatively short album and that could be done differently in this day and age, but rather quality than quantity, Armstrong must have thought and he is right about that. Listening to it over and over again must be a sign that I am loving this album. I am going to listen to all previous albums again and hope that I have wrongly underestimated this top musician a bit.
Boy what a year this is.