August 29, 2005

Flotation Toy Warning "bluffer's guide to the flight deck"

If I may be extremely candid, writing this review has been damn near impossible. Some say writing a positive review is much harder than a negative review, and this record has proven that point quite well. But what happens when you get a record that's so over-the-top and so utterly beyond mere categorization, one that simply cannot be described in 400 words or less? I have a feeling that I could write 2000 words about Bluffer's Guide to the Flight Deck and that still would not be enough to fully describe the beauty of their music. So I ask you, dear reader, to be a little bit forgiving if this review reads kind of funny, because finding the proper words that fully express my feelings for Bluffer's Guide to the Flight Deck has proven quite difficult.

Flotation Toy Warning is a London-based five piece who released their debut album last year to overwhelming critical acclaim. It's instantly apparent that they love epic music, as this ten song album runs for a full seventy-two minutes. Within that hour and twelve minutes, you'll hear all sorts of things; you'll hear strings and vocals and theremins and synths and mellotrons and Moogs and kazoos and other instrumental ephemera best described as 'thingymabobs' and 'whatchamacallits.' The music is spacey and spaced out and kinda lazy and dreamy, but in a way that's natural, rural, and inexplicably British. Comparisons could be made to bands like Grandaddy, Radiohead, Mercury Rev, The Polyphonic Spree and even Yes and Electric Light Orchestra, but all of those descriptions fail in some part, because the traces of those bands are so miniscule in comparison to what you'll find on Bluffer's Guide to the Flight Deck. (Besides, none of those bands hold a copyright on making music with choirs, computers, or beautiful lyrics, so it's quite difficult to accuse Flotation Toy Warning of mere imitation.)

But the music of Bluffer's Guide to the Flight Deck? Oh, it's simply grand. Simply, utterly breathtakingly grand. It's an amazing feat, but it seems as if Flotation Toy Warning's masterminds decided to simply forgo any kind of conventional wisdom in regards to self-indulgence. It's a bold gambit, (anyone who's heard Rick Wakeman's solo records understands this quite well) but it's one that pays off; had Bluffer's Guide been any less self-indulgent, the album would have collapsed under its own heaviness. The songs are all mini-epics; all of them flow for several minutes at a time, yet the songs never overstay their welcome, nor do they grow burdensome. While it's easy to enjoy the flourishes of accordian and opera on "Losing Carolina: For Drusky," the string arrangement and choir on"Donald Pleasance" and the theremin on "Fire Engine on Fire pt. II," these bits and bobs of musical magic are simply embellishments of a larger symphonic movement. Instead of individual songs, the album feels like a symphonic movement; to take one song out of place and dissect it without the context of the rest of the record destroys the grandeur of the entire affair.

The most amazing thing about Bluffer's Guide to the Flight Deck? Impossible to say, because it's all so amazing. Donald Drusky, the enigmatic man of the hour, has proven both his genius and his madness; that he has done so on his debut record makes the entire Flotation Toy Warning experience even more mind-blowing. It was one of the best albums of 2004, and it's one of the best albums of 2005, hands down. Truly a beautiful, magnificent work of art that resides in a field of its own.

--Joseph Kyle

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