23 November 2018 (released)
30 January 2019
Storytelling in a song is a bit of a lost art. Of course, every two-bit, burn-out artist is going to claim that their work “tells a story” but real third person character development with an inciting incident, climax, denouement etc. seems to be largely lost to the ages. McCartney set the benchmark for storytelling in rock music with an extensive collection of expository pieces from Eleanor Rigby to The Fool on the Hill, introducing characters and giving us a window into their lives. In more recent times, eccentric low-ender Les Claypool of Primus has littered his songs with his own cast of ne'er-do-wells and riff-raff chasing after far less noble pursuits than McCartney's brood. However, the musical biographer is far less common than the autobiographer. Rock n roll is, after all, a narcissist's game.
On their latest album Weakened at the Asylum, Midwest Soul Xchange chronicle the fictional lives of several intertwined characters as they navigate the tribulations of the Flint MI water crisis. The duo draws great inspiration from the pillars of classic rock concept albums with foundational piano, harmonized guitar leads and dense vocal arrangements. Nate Cherrier and Ryan Summers pull you into this tale of tragedy and perseverance by putting the narration front and centre. Even though the level of composition is impressive enough to be appreciated on its own, it only serves the telling of the stories.
In true Broadway musical fashion, the tale embarks with an overture and a scene-setting monologue. Dramatic verbed-out piano, grand drum fills and harmonizing guitar leads set the scene for a classic seventies style rock opera. As if an actor was stepping to his mark centre stage, the band makes way for an expository speech outlining the noir plot behind the tale of intrigue and betrayal.
Each movement of the piece has its own character. 'Fifteen Parts' has a sideshow carny feel, introducing its cast of characters. 'The Loser Illusion's sauntering indie vibe is bolstered by dreamy backing vocals over earnestly strummed guitar. McCartney's influence is on full display during 'Molehill Mountain', the piano plodding ditty that harkens back to Paul's sing-songy White Album contributions as well as Ringo's 'Don't Pass Me By'. The album concludes with 'Trilogy' a series of vignettes with a down-home Americana flair. The finishing medley also alludes to expository Beatles classics.
We are undoubtedly living in an age of singles (if not 15 second Instagram stories). Attention spans are at an all-time low. In the midst of this, Weakened at the Asylum begs for multiple listens in order to connect the dots of all the intertwining storylines in this tale of a blue-collar American town. If you give it time and multiple listens, this album will reward you with a narrative that goes beyond the simple flyby stories of the day.