An Experiment in Music – The Review of Spinning the Compass
Created by DoctorQ on 4/13/2011 11:37:45 AM

Doctor Q reviews Tom Slatter's first solo album "Spinning the Compass"

I must admit, this was a very hard album to review. I am an avid lover of many things and my love of music, perhaps, is what I admit to most anyone. As such, when I receive a request for a review, I feel honored to oblige. And yet, Tom Slatter’s foray into “steampunk music” with his freshman album, Spinning the Compass, has been on my pile of to-do projects for some time. And yes, the use of quotations has a point. I will get to it, have patience.

Why the delay? Well, mainly because many other projects simply took priority. And, honestly, I just don’t enjoy speaking ill of artists. Suffice it to say, as someone who tries very hard to avoid simply trashing an artist’s work – regardless of genre – I have finally sat down to endeavor to offer earnest and up-front criticisms of this musical effort by someone who promises to be a talented musician. But at least for my ears, he is a work in progress.

As an overall impression, what the album did was get me thinking. Many people often criticize the new wave of steampunk fiction as part of the genre because it is trending, and because authors are giving no thought on how to use the genre to tell a story. In a way, this album reminded me of that. Lyrically, it was unabashedly within our genre. But musically? It seemed like the good Mr. Slatter is experimenting, which is totally within our genre, but his atonal vocals, dissonant melodies and general timber of songs felt as if one was a singer-songwriter who just said one day “I like steampunk, and I like music, let’s see what happens when I mix them.”
I feel this album was a working model. A prototype if you will. The music tries to be steampunk. And I am not in any way appointing myself the arbiter of the genre… but the album as a whole just felt forced. It was as if the working model of a musical album was thrust into my ears in the hope that the off-kilter notes and experimental musical arrangements would find a home in my cog-loving ears.  In looking around, I see this album with the label of 'prog-rock' and I think that term is apt.  Perhaps my own ill receiption to it is due to my own random love or hate recaction when it comes to that topsy turvy genre. 
As you may have guessed at this point, I did not enjoy the album much at all. “Mechanism,” the opening song, was perhaps the high point of the whole album, and it simply went south from there. The song had a nice beat to it, the vocals were complementary and as a standalone single I’d play it. But from there, the album’s songs thrust steampunk in your face with its song titles and lyrical content, but the music to accompany them just doesn’t seem finished. “Ingenious Devices,” Bad Dreams,” and the title track “Spinning the Compass” are examples of this. They have potential, but there isn’t enough grease in the gears for my own tastes. Then, there are tracks like “Lines from a Séance” and “Two,” which are taking the experiment too far, and simply not enjoyable to my ears in any way.
This is not to say Mr. Slatter doesn’t have promise. Far from it, his further developments that he has released via his website, namely “The Steam Engine Murder and the Trial of Seven Bells John,” clearly show his progression into finding the happy medium of genre and music. Perhaps it could also be an increase in technical recording ability. Regardless, I feel Tom Slatter has a bit further to go as a musician, but I look forward to giving his sophomore album a try in the hopes that he has refined his talent and brings it to bear en force.  However, I would say this to leave things on a positive note, if your ears has a love for the vastly experimental and prog-rock is completely your cup of tea, then by all means give Mr. Slatter your attention and devotion.  As for me, I will simply await his next work in the hopes of my own fickle progressive ears could perhaps catch the right wavelength this artist broadcasts in. 
Doctor Q is the Media Editor for Steampunk Chronicle. He fancies himself an acoustic arranger of music, Senior Director or Arts & Entertainment for AnachroCon and founder of the Artifice Club.
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