The Chronicles of Father Robin – The Songs & Tales of Airoea – Book 1: The Tale Of Father Robin (2023)

The Chronicles of Father Robin - The Songs & Tales of Airoea - Book 1: The Tale Of Father Robin (2023)
Artist: The Chronicles of Father Robin
Album: The Songs & Tales of Airoea – Book 1: The Tale Of Father Robin
Genre: Symphonic Prog
Label: Karisma Records
Year Of Release: 2023
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)

Tracklist:
1. Prologue (1:06)
2. The Tale of Father Robin (1:16)
3. Eleision Forest (11:57)
4. The Death of the Fair Maiden (8:03)
5. Twilight Fields (15:24)
6. Unicorn (8:29)

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Personnel:
– Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo / vocals, guitars, bass, synth, organ, glockenspiel, percussion
– Aleksandra Morozova / vocals
– Thomas Hagen Kaldhol / guitars, mandolin, electronics & sound effects, backing vocals
– Regin Meyer / flute, organ, piano, backing vocals
– Jon Andre Nilsen / bass, backing vocals
– Henrik Harmer / drums & percussion, synth, backing vocals

With:
– Lars Fredrik Frøislie / keyboards, organ, Mellotron, piano, synth
– Kristoffer Momrak / synth
– Håkon Oftung / organ, clavinet, Mellotron, strings, electric piano, synth
– Ingjerd Moi / backing vocals (4)

The story behind The Chronicles of Father Robin is difficult to summarize better than they do on their own website…so allow me to do it worse instead. This supergroup of sorts brings together members from a multitude of other Norwegian folk- and/or symphonic rock acts including Wobbler, Tusmørke, Jordsjø, and Fangorn. Their collaboration first grew from the remnants of that last outfit (of whose existence I can find no other record on the internet), creating from their shared love of folklore an original fantasy setting with the titular character Father Robin representing the band members’ own collective lives and interactions with the world. Now, finally, after nearly thirty years of growth and creative effort, they present the first of three albums introducing their OC to the public.

Bubbly, folksy, and with a forested air of mystery, the first feature-length track “Eleision Forest” lays out the upcoming picnic spread of flutes, synths, keyboards, and much more in preparation for the listener’s amusement. Despite their eclectic collection of instruments, TCOFR expertly weave these disparate strands into a lively pastoral scene of varied styles and moods. Much like a painting draws the viewer’s eye with judicious application of contrasting colors, The Songs & Tales of Airoea – Book 1 achieves a harmonious balance among all of its unorthodox combinations of instruments. Sure, it’s not that unusual in progressive music, but this deep stack of collaborating musicians know just how to layer the unrelated instruments – especially the flutes with the various synths and keyboards – to transport the listener to their mystical, far-off land.

Somewhat contradictorily, the primary defining attribute of the fictional land of Airoea is variety. That’s natural when the starting point includes such a wide range of instrumentation, but TCOFR leverage their instrumental variety to drive a mesmerizing mix of styles, each one trading out for the next as the album progresses. These tonal twists and turns keep the presentation novel and lively, from sweet, flute-driven folk melodies in “Eleision Forest,” to lively jams like the ending section of “Death of the Fair Maiden,” to chaotic, discordant, almost psychedelic sections like those that make up the majority of “Twilight Fields.” The musical style on display actually reminds me a lot of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard at times – despite there not being a huge overlap in the genres typically ascribed to the two bands, their ability to join together such different ideas is comparable, as is much of the instrumentation with highly audible bass, lightly distorted guitars, spacey synths and keyboards, and of course the flute to top it all off.

If I may paint with a broad brush for a moment, I often find that these sorts of art rock bands get caught up in the stylistic trappings of classic prog rock and forget to actually make interesting music; TCOFR somehow achieve both. Yes, there are sections of warbling digital effects worthy of Genesis, and yes, the vocal performances tend towards light and floaty more than strong and impactful, but the frequent shifts in style, tone, and instrumentation break up the album’s flow and keep those elements from drowning out the rest. Only in the final track on the album, “Unicorn,” does the songwriting lose its way a bit. In place of the colorful tapestry from before, the album closer presents a much more one-note experience, settling quickly into a flat, inexpressive mood which persists almost until the end of the song. I came into this album with some fear that it would all sound this way – much like Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate did – and I’m pleased to find that not the case.

Airoea distinguishes itself through both the unique backstory behind its conception and the sheer amount of different styles it packs into its forty-six minute runtime. Its subtle but deep songwriting, easy to overlook on a casual first listen, unfolds into a pleasing landscape when given the space to show off all its varied components. Father Robin still face the impending challenge of two follow-ups, ostensibly coming later this year; Book 1 promises their potential, but it will be up to Books 2 and 3 to deliver on that promise.

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