Movies are not as powerful without their scores, and music is the soundtrack to our lives, which makes it curious that so little of the music we tend to listen to fits the mold. If life were a movie, the vast majority of the music I listen to would be fitting solely for a cheesy montage, not any of the day to day drama that propels us forward. Music is, in a way, a holding pattern meant to take us out of the moment, to normalize ourselves when there is nothing tethering us to reality. There are some bands who try to bridge the gap, but they fail because such an endeavor is fruitless. To truly write the score for life, you need to give yourself over to the drama that only a certain type of composition allows.
Jason Rubenstein is a composer who is trying to do exactly that. Blending progressive rock with orchestral scores, his music underwrites the very nature of life, taking us deeper into the moment, rather than away from it.
The compositions on “New Metal From Old Boxes” are suitably deep. They are pieces that mine the different worlds of music contained within, to wring the drama into a single color with from which the songs can be painted. As the opener, “The Contemplation Of The Cosmologer” unfolds its three minutes, we get doses of progressive rock through the challenging, circular guitar riff, while keyboards and piano balance the composition with an airy, delicate sound. That balance is essential to the album, showing up and running as a theme through the majority of the tracks. It doesn't always strike the right balance, but there is an effort to keep the album from veering too far in any one direction, which works to its advantage.
“The Set Up” may be the most interesting piece, sonically, for its use of the piano as a bass instrument, with rumbling low notes carrying the heft of the song. It's a good illustration of how a cranked amp and low-tuned guitar are not always the heaviest sound you can come up with. There's something to be said for the weight of a sparse moment, where a single instrument is allowed to choke off the air with the silence that surrounds it.
Unfortunately, “New Metal From Old Boxes” suffers from the same fate that most instrumental music does, which is why I struggle to enjoy much of the form. There are nifty musical ideas in these tracks, but there isn't much in the way of an over-arching composition to keep me engaged. The songs are missing an identifiable story, something to connect the pieces. What I hear is a stream of ideas running into one another without an explanation as to how they fit together. That makes it, to me, difficult to ascertain what the album as a whole is trying to say.
The best progressive music is the kind that challenges the listener, while simultaneously rewarding them. The bands that can take the most demanding instrumental passages, and sandwich them between gorgeous melodies, are the ones that stand above all the rest. This album fails in that respect, because there aren't the recurring themes and hooks here that are needed to get me to remember what is going on. We go on a journey from Point A to Point Z, and by the time we're done, I feel like I had made the trip with a bag over my head. I know where I am, but I don't know how I got there. No matter how enjoyable the scenery may be where that is, the disconnect is one I can't get over.