A Life of Science - The Apneist
Record Label: Sundawg Records
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Birthed in Phoenix, AZ, A Life of Science is largely the brainchild of frontman James Keenan, a visual communications graduate from Northern Arizona University. A Life of Science's debut album, The Apneist, took around three years to develop and record, beginning in the summer of 2006, ultimately being released on September 1st, 2009. Producer Larry Elyea (Jimmy Eats World, Eyes Set To Kill) described The Apneist was as "one of the most challenging and enjoyable records I've done to date. This record is a rollercoaster ride into uncharted territories of sonics and emotion." A concept album, The Apneist revolves around the actions of fictional scientist John Tate, who unintentionally brings about the destruction of the modern world by creating a homicidal robot army.
As if the experimental, sci-fi storyline behind the lyrics of The Apneist wasn't braving enough uncharted territory, A Life of Science also manage to span numerous genres on their debut record. The band's sound on this record can be a bit of a headache - elements of prog rock, electronica, screamo, post-hardcore, pop-punk, and ambient music are provided consistently, without relent for a single genre. However, A Life of Science manages to blend these genres together quite well as I will soon explain.
Album opener, The Apneist, begins with the soft, quivering voice of Keenan alongside warm piano chords. He croons "The bottom of the lake growing closer still, I will lie there," referencing the fact that within the storyline, scientist John Tate drowns himself to stop the actions of his robot army. As an introductory track, The Apneist smoothly into a more traditional pop-flavored track entitled Barnacles of Time. This song begins with mellow and atmospheric keyboard lines provided by Keenan, and is then joined by clean guitar melodies and the high voice of Keenan, narrating the beginning of John Tate's story. Barnacles of Time demonstrates the band's ability to synthesize genres well; while Keenan wails about fixing the "ruined world," guitarists Scott Passamonte and Zakk Geist expertly navigate between distorted chugging and delayed, intricate melodies. The drumming on this track is upbeat and keeps the tempo of this verse-chorus-verse "get to know us" song on The Apneist.
The third track, Onward, Submarine! opens with underwater ambience and clean guitar chords. This is quickly joined by the narrative of Keenan, and the dance-oriented, yet somehow heavy sounding drumkit of Angel Garcia. However, this brief, mellow groove that A Life of Science develops so easily is abruptly replaced with a post-hardcore, screamo chorus provided by guitarist Zakk Geist. The band's sound quickly becomes chaotic, and urgent sounding. Keenan croons alongside Geist's screams, while distorted guitars shriek up and down the scales. As the song progresses, it quickly becomes a standout track on this record. Prog-like elements are displayed in the guitar work, and Keenan's tongue-and-cheek lyrics ("Goodnight, submarine, a little something for yourself, we know it's good to, good to share the wealth,") provide an intelligent tone to this song. The track is one of the more aggressive songs on the record; however, it also features one of the most mellow, atmospheric outros of any song on The Apneist.
The next track, Text Support, somehow manages to be a mellow, electronic, power-ballad. Drum programming, synthesizers, and claps futter about the speakers as Keenan takes the mic. This track can be somewhat forgettable when looking back on the album. However, the next song, Carving A Canyon, makes up for this song and then some. Opening with heavy, shrieking, post-hardcore guitar tones and a bassy synth line, this track quickly grooves into a chill, downtempo beat, only to revive itself with Keenan singing and Geist screaming "Crumble your hypotheses to the ground, tear the pages out. Throw all your ideas away," simultaneously alongside breakdown-like instrumentation and experimental synthesizer arpeggiators. This track works similarly to the third track, as it juxtaposes Geist's screaming and Keenan's sweet vocals, however, it also differentiates itself with the addition of more intricate, complex drumming and more keyboards.
The sixth track, Rebels & Redcoats, begins with a mellow, downtempo groove consisting of Keenan along sharp, staccato drumming, and delayed guitar lines. However, this track progresses into an emotional, climactic chorus, Keenan and Geist providing vocals together for this. This track also shows off the band's prog side - Geist and Passamonte deliver a series of intricate, dual-melodies in both speakers, mirroring each other in different octaves, as the band progressively speeds up, only to slow down for another dual-vocal verse. The track ends with heavy, chugging breakdown guitar riffs and synthesizer arpeggiators. The next song, Evidence of Lunar Orbit, is cut from the same vein of Text Support, managing to be mellow, soft, and almost cheesy, as Keenan narrates that scientist John Tate creates a robot version of his lover, Sandy. However, this track does include an emotional guitar solo, and group crooning in the mix, therefore it should not be considered unoriginal or boring.
Let's Say Grace, track eight, opens with sharp distorted guitars and a dramatic band buildup. This track juxtaposes climactic post-hardcore verses with dance beats, only to yield to the screams of Zakk Geist and the vocoded vocals of Keenan wailing "Please sit down for dinner, let's say grace,". Track nine, San-d4000, You Are Immortal, sounds almost pop-punk, using All Time Low-esque guitar riffs in the beginning. However, this track soon becomes a bit forgettable, as it tries to do too much, placing heavy instrumentals with drum programming and more vocoded vocals. The final track on the album, Yacht Life, is one of the best. It features solid songwriting from Keenan, Passamonte, Geist, and Garcia. Upbeat grooves and melodic guitars accompany Keenan on his last chance to explain the story of John Tate to his listeners. The song features an uplifting chorus "I still look to the heavens.. I'm looking over you," as well as multiple guitar breakdowns, which manage to be both intricate and gratifying for post-hardcore fans in the audience. The album closes with an exitlude at the end of this track, very similar to the introductory track. Keenan concludes "Everyone was right, and now I am to blame. Miscalculate.. to burn the world alive". He also notes that since he, John Tate, has drowned himself, "without their god, they're gone," referencing the fact that his robotic army cannot function without him being alive, ending the album on an almost hopeful note, implying that perhaps the world won't be affected by his actions anymore.