The majority of positive reviews are written so that reluctant readers get the motivational drive to give one record a try. Notwithstanding, allow me, with this extended text, which barely focuses on music, to address those who have already listened to this album at least once. In the world of Internet and streaming, anyone who has 75 minutes to spend is just one click away...
To understand the broader context of "Rebirth In Reprise" and the solemn artistic victory it brings about upon its denouement, we will briefly focus on the course of the utterly talented musician behind The Dear Hunter, Casey Crescenzo.
Back in 2005, after his post-hardcore beginning with The Receiving End Of Sirens at the age of 21, the multi-instrumentalist Casey decided to materialize his lofty plan: a band playing multifarious prog rock while narrating a single fictional story though their albums. And he managed to do so in a flawless way that gave prominence to his musical talent; by creating "Act I", "Act II" and "Act III", which maintain their undisputed claim to the crown of any open-minded rock record collection.
After three grandiose Acts, naturally, one does not expect that a resourceful musician will continue in the same vein. It is in the nature of talent to hunt for new challenges, feel confined by self-imposed barriers, comprehend them and ultimately break through them.
So, in 2011, The Dear Hunter coloured not one, not two, but nine (!) EPs ("Black", "Blue", "Green", "Indigo", "Orange", "Red", "Violet", "White", "Yellow") and we were hit right between the eyes by many ounces of music firing carefully-designed arrows in different directions. Of course, we were far from being able to digest it back then... However, 'time is the corrector when our judgments err'.
Two years later, "Migrant" was created, the first full-length album of the band, which was not pertinent to the concept of the Acts. Most importantly it was the first time that we had observed such a significant deviation from prog, with Casey studying the core of modern indie rock music and seeking the formulas of simplicity which turn an ordinary, modern pop song into something extraordinary.
With the redolence of its prog background gushing out in every corner as a boon, "Migrant" - although, as anticipated, was never embraced by their hitherto fans- is one of the most inspirational but unacknowledged indie rock albums in recent times.
We had reached a point in time when the Acts seemed to be relinquished. Casey himself implied that if he ever decided to get back at them, it would be in the distant future. If and only if... In an interview in 2013 he had told me: 'I have to have time, and be passionate about continuing on to Acts IV, V and VI... but I know that I will at some point'.
During the intervening time between "Migrant" and the triumphant return of "Act IV", The Dear Hunter composed a symphony ("Armour & Attrition") together with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Brno, and Casey got separated from his wife, an incident which is rather discernible in the bittersweet flow of the story described. But, we will be ascertaining that later...
Casey was emotionally exhausted trying to go down the road of "Migrant", that is, of mainstream success, of yielding to what producers recommend, of playing a game in order to find out how prominent he could become, if he gave the radio audience music they wanted drenched in his talent. 'I thought maybe it was time to sell out and do a pop record', he said shamelessly.
The drastic change that took place in his personal life, acted as a catalyst as well as an inspiration, thus, Casey took the big decision to give a definitive end to the above (which, incidentally, I am convinced, would end up in an unreal pop record) and get back to what made him happy; to re-become the troubadour of the Acts, which were none other than life-courses parallel with his own personal adventures.
Forgive my prolixity, but strangely enough, this retrospection helps us fathom the emotions arising through the most abounding album of this year in their entirety; the panegyric enthusiasm of a new start, the bitterness that holds back this excitement, at times, when you realize that no beginning is actually a real beginning... The nostalgia, the longing, the hope, the meekness of wisdom.
The album is not randomly entitled "Rebirth In Reprise"; the main reasons are two: Firstly, it obviously refers to the story of the protagonist. Secondly, it is indeed and in every respect the regeneration of Casey Crescenzo through his return to the original pattern.
"Act IV" is, oddly enough, the most prog album of his career and, at the same time, it carries over the unprecedented legacy of his recent hiatus: While all our favourite bands of the same trade are what we call alt-prog, as of now, The Dear Hunter sail -allow me- under the flag of indie-prog. They have assimilated quite a lot of modern things, and this cannot be completely concealed in their '60s-'70s veil. If you want to understand the imperceptible difference, try "The Line"...
The Storyline of "Act IV"
And in case you don't know what the hell this story of the "Acts" is about, in a nutshell, it concerns the convoluted life of a man, born and raised in the early 20th century. In "Act I" the protagonist falls in love with a prostitute, in "Act II" he goes to war, where he reunites with his brother and father. At the end of "Act III", after the decease of his brother, The Dear Hunter's hero decides to return to mundane affairs assuming his brother's identity in order to make a new start.
In "Act IV", years later, he reappears in the town as his brother. The opening track already foreshadows the culmination of this paradoxical venture, when his mind whispers what his heart cannot accept ('I'll be me, in time'). After the opener "Rebirth", we come across reflections and thoughts over his past. The impressive track "The Old Haunt" insists that 'there are far too many ways to die' referring not so much to the loss of his old identity as to his mental death in virtue of his separation from the love of his life, Ms. Leading.
The next track, "Waves", shows in the most emphatic manner that Casey is one of the very few people who are able to be both commercial and multifaceted at the same time. Apart from that, it is a pivotal point in the life of the central character, as it shows the bittersweet feeling he experiences after his break-up with Ms. Leading ('I thought that I knew love / But it was just a wave crashing over us').
Casey has admitted that this particular song is also a reference to his own painful separation from his wife. "Waves" represents the cynical apperception that some feelings never existed.
The wonderful piano-driven "At The End Of The Earth", sinks further into the protagonist's unbearable love pain, with the choral arrangements exalting Crescenzo's performance. "Remembered" has the finesse of a symphonic prog rock interlude of the '70s and leads the protagonist to recall his deceased mother ('Met your life before us / Left them your necklace / And brandished your ashes / Like stars peaking out in the gloom').
The next song of the album is also its centerpiece. Within the epic nine-minute long extravaganza entitled "A Night In The Town" we literally find all the elements that make a prog song outstanding -and it's not even my favourite one in this album! This is the point when recollection of the past stops and his actual story begins in the town, under the new identity. At the same time, we start to suspect that this whole plot was secretly created just to see her once more. To see her in order to hate her... ('There's that subtle smile that did me in / She moves... / An agony reminds where I've been / She breathes / 'I'd never let this happen again.' / Where's your heart? / Mimicking the patriarch / She's naive...').
In the following track, "Is There Anybody Here", where Queen Influences caress the horizon, the protagonist curses his own apathy ('Moments turn to long Decembers / Stoking fires from dying embers') and weakness ('A phantom staring back at me / It's you'). Finally, he accepts and embraces this weakness, indicating that it was the reason he took certain decisions concerning Ms. Leading ('A pain I simply can't express / From troubles I have long repressed... / ...and then, there's you').
"The Squeaky Wheel" turns the corner and, therefore, it abounds in pleasant and optimistic melodies. The playful and adventurous mood, which The Dear Hunter had in the past, is present once again. The speaker, now, is Ms. Leading, who has understood the secret identity of the protagonist and gives her point of view on what had happened since the war. Mostly, though, she wonders whether the whole thing deserves a second chance ('So will I marry a myth? Or is there room for second chances? / The lust lives in the dark and may never show').
The three-part continuation of "The Bitter Suite" (IV, V and VI) is perhaps the top ten-minute piece of the album. Crystal, melodic, emotional, passionate, intelligent prog rock. The story line of the bitter suites had already begun with "The Pimp & The Priest" in "Act I". Now, the protagonist sees himself, for the first time, as the priest of "The Bittersuite" and it is in this sense - and only this- that he gets married to Ms. Leading.
What is obvious here is the criticism of the church being too greedy ('So you committed a sin? / Well, we can rid that with a remedy / The bidding starts at $70/, If you wanna get up / Reserve a Room on high / Put your coins in my hat / And don't ask why'), but, it also extends to a metaphorical level to communicate that Ms. Leading is a fake salvation for the protagonist. In all the Acts, the Bittersuites are the ground zero of his mistakes. The song of his union with her is entitled "Abandon" and, while this alone says a lot, the ironic lyrics say even more.
Suddenly, this overwhelming emotional veil is lifted and an unexpected pop song, soaked in an '80s vibe, pops up. In "King Of Swords (Reversed)", it seems like Bowie and Michael Jackson are played reversed through Casey's persona. The protagonist, experiencing a fragile and spurious happiness, succeeds, gains reputation (we never know in what field) and touts that he owes it all to Ms. Leading.
In "If All Goes Well" they chat. Ms. Leading, the voice of the choir and the voice of reason, tries to bring him down to Earth, but he insists. He pursues even more fame and success, claiming that he can keep a tight rein on it ('I swear my motive can still remain sincere'). The parallelism between this and the brief period in his recent past, when Casey himself was after fame, is fairly self-explanatory. The song ends with the protagonist having regained Ms. Leading's love and affection.
Temporarily, though, as the wonderful "The Line" constitutes the gravestone of a relationship already doomed from day one, being a second chance ('It's the end of the line for you and I / Don't make believe we even tried'), and the coldness of the final decision to move on ('Now we dream / Of bigger things / Now we sing / To set us free'), combined with the realization of the essence of the story of "Act IV".
The dark and subcutaneously angry "Wait" is the existential question and the philosophy of the protagonist's new character, formed after this adventure. "Ouroboros" will end the album in a Wilson-ish, mystical, awe-inspiring way. The serpent eating its own tail, a symbol depicting the creative impetus for a new beginning, was long hidden ('Hard to believe this snake stayed in the grass / Just long enough to catch your Rabbit's feet') and appears at the end, when the true identity is revealed and Ms. Leading states that she knew everything from the outset ('Hands romanced enticing you to keep / Laboring against the clock in spite of secrecy / You couldn't know revealed itself / To me the second you decided to compete').
In the end, the protagonist realizes that revenge, not love, was the driving force all along ('I never wanted to be your city's son / I cried out to his crooked heart / I never wanted to hurt no one. No one but you') and feels dense he was left at the mercy of his impulses ('Lost my soul in the place of a great deceiver / Foolish hearts led foolish plans awry').
...and just like that, instead of the next Star Wars, we, real geeks, can't wait for the next Act. That's all.