Volitar - Murder, Mystery, Mayhem

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Self-released
Catalog Number: Vol7115-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 47:18:00

Volitar's Murder Mystery Mayhem is a curious release - a sci-fi story containing, well, murder, mystery and mayhem ... Well, not exactly. There's murder, but the story moves by so quickly that there's really no mystery to speak of. And there's no mayhem.

I'll review this on two levels, the story and the music; first, the story. Given that this is a single CD release, the story has to move along very quickly. And in this case too quickly. And it's not like time was running short - only 47 minutes (a little more than half) of the space is used. Once the lead characters arrive on Volitar after a year and half trip in cold-sleep, the rest of the story develops over a few hours? which leaves much of the backstory and fill-in details up to your imagination, or to later exposition from a character. But, it also means that we don't get to know the characters, except in broad strokes. A summation would be: Trevor Braiden arrives on Volitar, eats, dances, naps, is the target in a bombing, and is ready for romance with someone that he has, essentially, just met - all in the space of, maybe, a couple of hours. Or so it seems? maybe there is more time between some scenes than is said or implied - and frankly, there'd have to be due to some later comments from the other lead, Dr. Desiree Lear. And while you think that maybe the songs move the story along in between? nope. Not really. They are the inner monologues of the characters for the most part, at least those with lyrics. One would like to see, at least from a story point of view, some more development? again, hard if you've got one CD to tell your story and do so with dialog and music? and the music doesn't, as I said, move the story forward. One thinks that there will be much more mystery involved, at least in retrospect, based on off-hand comments from Lear, Braiden's friend Taylor Parish threatening to expose Lear if she gets to close to Braiden, and no tension or suspense is built with Braiden's nightmares coming true. Many things are implied, which suggests a broader story than is presented.

The setting is the moon Volitar in the year 2117. Volitar is a being mined for the nitranium ore deposits it contains, as Dr. Lear is there to find more deposits. Braiden is the owner of the company conducting the mining operations, he having returned after 5 years away. Like a commercial or radio play, the dialog is a little stilted. When you have to set the scene a) quickly and b) with words only, it's hard not to be. Let's say, they speak a little more precise and direct than people normally do. The story falls somewhere between modern sci-fi and campy 60s sci-fi. The main - or obvious - protagonist is Enox, complete with a distorted, digitized voice (the stereotypical voice given to the computer gone bad, though Enox is not a computer). As we learn towards the end of the story, Enox once worked for Braiden until found a powerful drug called Santainum? and before Enox could process it, Braiden shut him down "as soon as I found out the devastating effect it can have on the Ganthronian metabolism," he explains to Lear. Ganthronians are, we can presume, either aliens or humans who have adapted to another environment (they work at the mining facility). And it is Enox who tries to have Braiden killed. In between, we meet other characters, friends of Braiden's, who are merely scenery, except for Parish (and it I'm sure it isn't coincidence that Parish and perish are similar words, as Parish does indeed perish).

These dialog segments are interspersed between instrumental and vocal tracks. Some are internal monologues, as with the mushy, new-wavey-popish "Just One Look" (something along the lines of more lush Berlin or less chirpy Bangles), where Dr. Lear ruminates on her attraction to Braiden, fearing he will find out her secret - Parish has just said to her - "Don't plan on getting attached to Trevor [?] I will expose you and your past associations if necessary [?]." Or "Soul Searching," a dark and throaty jazz-rock track that reminds me a bit of Roxy Music in its slinkiness, Icehouse, and ABC. The vocals on this track are a bit different, a bit wavery. The only piece that fills in a story gap is "Deep Freeze," the jazzy, brassy, swirling instrumental. My favorite aspect of this track being the warm and dramatic trumpets of Jon Hanson, that with their Herb Alpert-like tone are so cool and appealing.

Another interesting track, and one I rather like because of its quirkiness and clever play on words is "Faces" ("we've all got faces to go / faces we'd rather be"), performed in the story by a group called Dreaming Out Loud during the "dancing at nightclub" scene. It is like futuristic collaboration between the Talking Heads and INXS, in that the vocals are at one point quirky and David Byrne-esque, at another times, slinky and sexy in a Michael Hutchence kind of way. All with a digital, futuristic, effects-laden, metallic, danceable (in a fashion) musical rhythm ? a cyber-rhythm, and, in a way, stereotypical of how music in the future will sound (though that future keeps getting pushed farther and farther back).

The rap track is "The Fire Of Section 17," which has a bit of Beastie Boys groove to it. "Dead" mixes ambient, electronic textures with heavier, metal, spoken word passages, and more theatrical flourishes (of a Lloyd Weber variety), though there are some lighter classic prog textures here, too - some keyboard accents. "Mourning" is a lighter piece featuring layers of keyboards - deeper piano like tones over trilling, almost flute-like lighter tones. I'd call it the contemporary instrumental piece of the album, and quite bright and upbeat for a piece called "Mourning" ("Morning" maybe, but not "Mourning"). And though there some interesting guitar textures towards the end, these never fully develop, remaining perpetually in "lead in" mode? you want the guitar to take off.

As you might have guessed from some of my comparisons, the music of Volitar is influenced by a diverse array of artists. Volitar (the musical entity) is a project headed by multi-instrumentalist Andrew Engstrom (drums, vocals, synths, programming and, on one track, rhythm guitar), who portrays Braiden, and features Scott Hamilton on guitars, Ford James on basses (and the voice of Taylor Parish), and Andrea Mogil on alto and tenor flutes, along with guest performances from Jon Hanson on trumpet for two tracks, including "Deep Freeze;" Dale McFarlin on djimb'e ("Mourning"); Mike Fieldhouse on congas ("Mourning"), Leslie Rostron on vocals ("Just One Look"), and William Todd Hunt on sax ("Dead"). Portraying Dr. Lear is Becky Jo Engstrom, who also wrote some of the lyrics ("Soul Searching").

While the idea is intriguing and the music pleasant enough, the project falls a little short of the scope it really needs. There's not enough back story to make the events have any resonance. And it might be just a little too cheerful in presentation, so much so as to lean toward? cheesy. But, the music is well done if not always great.

Blast Off / Deep Freeze / Soul Searching / Landing / Gateway Theater / Faces / The Secret / Just One Look / Machine Shop / Nightmare / Laser Research / The Fire Of Section 17 / Dead / Mourning / Desiree For Dessert / Free

Andrew Engstrom - drums, vocals, synths, programming; rhythm guitar (6), portrays Trevor Braiden, Enox, Night Club Emcee, additional voices
Becky Jo Engstrom - Dr. Desiree Lear
Scott Hamilton - guitars
Ford James - basses; portrays Taylor Parish
Andrea Mogil - alto and tenor flutes
Jon Hanson - trumpet (2, 12)
Dale McFarlin - djimb'e (14)
Mike Fieldhouse -congas (14)
Leslie Rostron - vocals (8)
William Todd Hunt - sax (13)
Ray Imel - Felix Liddy, Officer Mort
Carrie Arbogast - Nanette Harding, Shuttle Computer Voice
Tim Hulse - Harold Athey
Murray Damitio - Pierre Pardon
Joan Cahill - Anchor Woman
Kent Dawson - Police Chief O'Brian
Carl Behnert - Ganthronian Waiter, Night Club Patron

Murder, Mystery, Mayhem (2002)

Genre: Other

Origin US

Added: March 7th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.volitar.com
Hits: 1007
Language: english


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