“Would you like some trumpet and guitar on your electronic album?” “I would love some trumpet and guitar!” And so The Fifty Year Storm begins, with sonic thunder and lightning; “I’ve Seen Some Mean Faces” is the album highlight, a jam that lands in the midst of Morricone, Fingathing and Troubles, guns blazing, bystanders ducking for cover. When the gunslinger whistles softly during the finale, one can imagine his silhouette: cocked leg, mud-crusted spurs, tilted hat.
The Fifty Year Storm is a grand western creation, evocative and at times powerful, but it suffers from excess. For the remainder of the album, the guest trumpeter never returns. (Come back, Shane!) This leaves the album a bit in the lurch, as the setup has been so strong. With 13 tracks spread over 66 1/2 minutes, the set tends toward the sprawling; editing would have helped to preserve its distinctive flavor. The best tracks invoke a touch of the western setting: “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, which contains muted or sampled brass; “Get Your Gun”, which features a cawing bird, presumably a vulture or crow; “Descent Into Fire”, highlighted by some insanely hyperactive drumming; and the title track, which follows in its wake, adding sound effects, chimes and dual live/programmed percussion.
The bulk of the album falls into IDM territory. Drum patterns skimmer and stray, synths rise and fall, vocal samples loop and repeat. It’s solid stuff, especially when it sticks to the plot. Even the theme-deficient tracks contain hints of the big picture: a few seconds of horses on “Opium Den”, a dialogue sample on “Nest of Hornets”, a bit more whistling on “Voyage”. The Fifty Year Storm is close to being an effective concept album, but it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Perhaps this isn’t a problem in the digital age, as people tend to buy tracks instead of full albums. Still, there’s nothing quite like a consistent concept album, in which the purpose of every track is clearly understood. As the comment below explains (thanks, Adam!), The Fifty Year Storm is the concluding entry of a trilogy, and is meant to evoke nautical and apocalyptic themes; liner notes are a suggestion for the next physical edition. (Richard Allen)