Welcome once again to Uncharted Territory. This month, we will be focussing on CRANIOTOMY, the debut album from Midlands-based Laptop Philharmonic. In order to fully understand what is essentially a concept album, we must begin with the story of Sam, the man behind Laptop Philharmonic. In 2013, Sam was eagerly anticipating the birth of his first child when he was diagnosed with a large meningioma (brain tumour). After consultations with a neurosurgeon, Sam underwent ten hours of brain surgery to have the tumour removed. He then began an extensive period of recovery which was only interrupted, and undoubtedly enhanced, five weeks after surgery with the arrival of his daughter. The only lasting effect of Sam's experience is a slight hampering of his ability to raise his left eyebrow. CRANIOTOMY is his way of documenting, sharing and learning from his experiences.
Unsurprisingly, the album takes a chronological approach to Sam's story and is separated into three quite distinct sections – diagnosis, operation and recovery. The opening two tracks look at his life prior to his diagnosis. First up is Masterplan, an intentionally lethargic track set over Muse-like clinical piano which, using a dose of dramatic irony, talks about feeling completely in control of one's life. The second, EtCeteraEt, takes a wry sideways glance at the things he used to prioritise. Sung almost exclusively in management speak, it is a witty commentary on modern society. The true gem of the first section though is Nonability. An entirely instrumental track, it deals with the moment of diagnosis and perfectly encapsulates an inability to vocalise one's feelings. Intense and constantly shifting, it is punctuated by sounds of garbled, incomprehensible speech – the words of others that you just can't register or process.
A similar technique is used in the second section on the track Gyrocopter, the record of the operation itself. Rhythmic drum and piano heartbeats are the backdrop to a track which begins feeling removed from the world and carries a sense of dread throughout. The build up to this is the touching track NightNight, an anaesthetic-induced song set over the whirs and beeps of medical machinery that encapsulates all the fears of a patient on the brink of life-threatening surgery before spiralling into the unknown.
The final section, as you might expect, carries a strand of joyous renewal throughout. Sam's belief in God plays a large part, most notably in Innumerable as he sings of answered prayers and faith rewarded. Orientation provides a more detailed breakdown of the recovery process while leading in to the questioning of his previous life that sits as a constant through the last two tracks, Macroscope and Abscission. Referring back to opening track Masterplan, Sam resolves not to try and control his world any longer and instead leave it in the hands of God – only by losing his grip on life so completely did he realise that it wasn't something that he even had or wanted in the first place.
CRANIOTOMY really had me thinking about the terrible things that happen to us in our life and why someone might want to dedicate an album to something that at the time must have felt so final and all-consuming. I suppose, in the end, it is not the memory that we are celebrating, but the metamorphosis. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, we are thankful for the person that the experience has created – for the lessons that we learned and the scars, both physical and mental, that serve as a constant reminder of the strength of the human spirit.
What Laptop Philharmonic has created is a beautiful record, an album that feels deeply personal yet also entirely relatable. It carries such a positive message of hope, faith and the importance of love, especially in the most dire of circumstances. The album's experimental musical style and focus on conjuring up images give us a clearer picture than words ever could. For forty minutes, I was part of Sam's story – seeing his experiences through his eyes and to instil that level of empathy in a listener is a truly remarkable achievement.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron after all...
Lyric Of The Month
“You've been living in la-la land//Playing dress up with a curtain and a plastic crown”
Ten hour surgery
Gives rise to a new outlook
Hope and faith restored
As always, please feel free to write your own review using the comments section below. The more the merrier. Please do take note of our contribution guidelines. Looking forward to hearing what you thought.