One can’t help but root for an artist like Robin Armstrong. The man behind the project called “Cosmograf”, he has a released a string of engaging albums over the past decade on his own independent label. While several earlier releases featured a wide range of notable guest stars, increasingly Armstrong has proven that he is more than capable of covering the bulk of the instrumentation, singing, writing and production himself, aside from his esteemed pick on drum kit, Kyle Fenton. There is a sincerity which permeates his endeavors, both in his entrepreneurial approach and in the music itself, and it is this aspect which gets us on his side, cheering for his success. Following up on 2019’s excellent “Mind Over Depth”, new album “Rattrapante” covers less heavy but more focused terrain dealing with matters of time. Indeed, a Rattrapante chronograph can simultaneously time 2 events at once, and is a French word deriving from ‘rattraper’ meaning ‘to catch up or recapture’. The inspiration likely stems from Armstrong’s work in watch repair. As he is constantly surrounded by the clock, it’s no surprise that the theme would eventually “wind up” on an album.
Taking a cue from the material at hand, let’s play with chronology a little by starting with the final track on the album and then work backwards. “Time Will Flow”, perhaps intentionally being one of the longest songs here, takes a measured pace in its development. The etheric opening contains utterly compelling atmospheres of piano, synths, long guitar lines, backing vocals in the distance and Fenton’s percussion up front in the mix. Let’s say right off the bat that Fenton’s performance is a perfect match for the arrangements throughout the album, satisfyingly mixed by Armstrong. At the three and a half minute mark we are treated to a lengthy treatise on “Time” read aloud by Tommy McNally. Rather than being laborious, the words brilliantly fall out of McNally’s mouth like poetry, his thick Scottish accent imbuing the material with depth and meaning. As conveyed by the verses and lead guitar lines, this piece is more about mood, spaciousness and at times groove, than following a traditional song structure. “Memories Lie” is even better, a highlight of the album. Its main repeating guitar theme is surrounded by layers of transcendent keyboards, alternating with a chorus which is mainly accompanied by simple but effective acoustic guitar strumming. This unusual arrangement choice makes for an emotional delivery time and time again as it repeats throughout the song, pausing only for an interlude boasting the best guitar solo on the album.
Lead single “I Stick to You” is our halfway point, unique in that it opens with acoustic guitar and features a duet of sorts during the chorus with guest singer Chrissy Mostyn. A romantic ballad with a twist, the narrator is a 300 year-old immortal who tries to reconcile his love for a woman who must pass, as all things do…except for him. Mostyn’s vocals come off particularly eerily thanks to Armstrong’s production techniques, a fitting touch for this haunting piece. Well done. The title track “Rattrapante” precedes, a bit more of a straight ahead rocker detailing the human casualties of mankind’s race to get into outer space at all costs. With a layered chorus that wonderfully launches Armstrong’s vocals out beyond the earth’s atmosphere, there also is a main instrumental theme of swirling organ and keys which gives Fenton space to bring his fills to the fore, always a welcome treat. But the repetition of this theme starts to drag on and when it repeats one final time at the 7:50 mark, a sense of acute deja vu is creeping in and it feels like we might be trapped in an endless repeating cycle of the song. Perhaps that is by design to go along with the theme, but this is one case where a shorter edit of the song may have been more rewarding. Album opener “In 1985” suffers from a somewhat similar fate in that it starts off promisingly with atmospheric guitar noodlings, but once it launches into its retro rocker vibe there just isn’t enough substance to justify a nearly 13 minute piece. The nostalgia of this likely-autobiographical track is fun for those of us who were there to witness Live Aid, Back to the Future and all of the other cultural references (yours truly was literally at JFK during that momentous concert event). But perhaps Haken has already covered this terrain adequately with their own “1985”. More to the point: although the aspect of memories can be tied into the overarching theme of the clock, the anthemic pounding of the music seems out of place with the rest of the material on the album and is an especially curious choice as a lead-off track. Perhaps its final countdown could have come at better moment.
As has been the case for a while now, Armstrong’s skilled hand at production is a crucial element in conveying his vision. His performance on guitar, bass and keys perfectly fits the music, while his unique vocals are wielded in such a way so as to give the music more character and grit. While not perfect, “Rattrapante” offers another solid outing from Cosmograf and ultimately keeps us on Armstrong’s side, appreciating his gifts and hoping his songs will “take him far”, as he puts it on “In 1985”.
Released by: Independent
Released on: March 26th, 2021
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Robin Armstrong / Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass
- Chrissy Mostyn / Vocals (I Stick To You)
- Kyle Fenton / Drums, Backing Vocals
- Tommy McNally / Spoken word (Time Will Flow)
- In 1985
- I Stick To You
- Memories Lie
- Time Will Flow
It’s time. Time you get to know Cosmograf and the wonderful world of Robin Armstrong. In regards to “Rattrapante”, it’s all about time…as a concept, that is. Supported primarily by the skilled hands of Kyle Fenton on drums, Armstrong can handily cover all of the other instrumentation, vocals, songwriting and production as he offers a modern spin on classic prog rock. Cosmograf always offers an enjoyable listening experience and this timely release is no exception. Give it a moment of your time and then some.