Austria’s driveby pulls out all the stops on its ambitious new album, a 22-track opus whose bonus disc includes a dozen alternate takes and remixes. Such ambition is rare for an instrumental progressive / post-rock band, demonstrating a bold confidence and an experimental spirit. One may choose to listen in order, or to create one’s personal take on the album by deciding which versions one likes best.
Even a quick look at the prime disc reveals the presence of a post-rock trope: six of the ten tracks settle in the 8-13 minute range. These tracks offer the expected peaks and valleys, with an added sense of development. The piano is used intelligently throughout, while occasional spoken word forwards the general narrative. The band describes aSymmetry as a concept album that is not a concept album, covering such themes as “the contradiction of inner peace and unrest, the chaos that rages within, resistance, hope and liberation from bonds of resignation”. That’s a lot of themes for a single project, but the nature of this music is to shift from the calm and measured to the turbulent and unchained, which befits the underlying concept(s).
The first sign of something atypical is the three-part “My Master”, which arrives in the form of Adagio, Passacaglia and Fugue. This triptych lies at the center of the album and draws the listener into a web of modern composition and progressive fusion. This is also the first time listeners realize just how important the piano is to the band; the Adagio and Fugue revolve around the ivories in such a way as to imply even higher ambitions. But just as important to the album are the three closing guitar-driven tracks, the best of which is the finale, “A Mystery”. The track introduces intertwined male and female vocals, rises steadily to a swirling climax, backs gently into the vocals again, and culminates in a keyboard coda that hearkens back to the album’s beginning.
The highlight of the bonus disc is “Stray Me Choral”, a choral version of an instrumental track (which is rare, but surprisingly, it works). “A Mystery” receives three remixes, all of which reduce or remove the vocals; the first concentrates on electronic beats, the second on a dialogue sample and the third on orchestral elements. “May Rest” reappears in acoustic and orchestral versions, and other tracks receive similarly bold adjustments. These tracks make one wonder where driveby will venture next, but helps one to imagine multiple futures, each taking place in an alternate universe, asymmetrical yet inextricably linked. (Richard Allen)