Saturday, July 26, 2008

Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles - A Boldogság Minden Reményét Elragadták

Self Released

Best of 2008

This was one of my "sample" reviews that I submitted along with my application to become a writer for The Silent Ballet. This was really only the second critical review that I wrote, so the quality is probably a bit questionable, but this was one hell of a release. If you want to get a copy, just e-mail the band here.

[EDIT]: They apparently disagree.

I’m hesitant.

I scroll through the archives of past reviews that have been posted here on The Silent Ballet. This is about the eighth time I’ve done so, but I want to be absolutely sure: never before has an album been awarded a 10/10. Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles’ first release has me wondering if that might soon change.

Being young, and relatively new to this whole “critical appreciation of music” business, I am quite excitable and impulsive, with a tendency to hastily award superlatives after a cursory listen. So, given to hyperbole as I am, when I label a release as “the best of the year”, it is quite understandable (prudent, even) that you, gentle reader, take such advice with the proverbial grain – or seven – of salt. But you need to trust me when I tell you that this release could be the best of the year.

On paper, A Boldogság Minden Reményét Elragadták, an instrumental work with its sights set on the hypocrisies of US global policy and the war in Iraq, has failure written all over it. The foreign title and lofty concept scream pretension and immaturity, making it quite tempting to preemptively write this record off as an exercise in masturbatory self-indulgence. Resist the urge: the album is nearly without flaw.

Deeply rooted in the post-rock milieu, this young eleven-piece from New Jersey is certainly in its element on this debut – spanning well over an hour – painting with quite a diverse and eclectic palette. Over the course of twelve tracks, Riding Alone combine pads of ambience with samples and found sound, deftly manipulating droning guitar notes to work alongside passages of all-out metal fury. The finished product could be chaos, a Jackson Pollock painting in audible form – instead, the end result is nothing short of breathtaking. Perhaps it was unfair of me to pigeonhole this album as a political attack against the United States, because A Boldogság’s scope is so much wider than just that. This record is essentially a treatise on the loss of innocence, the ways in which humanity copes with that loss, and how these coping mechanisms ultimately make things worse, starting the cycle all over again. The title really says it all: A boldogság minden reményét elragadták is a Hungarian idiom which translates to mean “All hope of happiness has been snatched away”. Really uplifting stuff.

To this end, A Boldogság is split into 4 different “acts”, each with its own distinct setting and overarching theme, and the band does an excellent job in crafting each piece so that the unified whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Also quite effective is the (sometimes not so) subtle interplay between each act, most notably the juxtaposition of the album’s two anchors Fallujah Sky and Screwdriver (which start off Acts I and III, respectively).

Fallujah Sky centers around an American attack on the Iraqi city, while a frantic women screams in anguish, her Arabic chants and refrain of “Allahu Akbar” an elegy for her beloved home, while children and family members console her. An American soldier then reflects on her (and the Islamic people in general’s) religious devotion and fervor:

“The woman, seeing my reaction, came up to me and put her hand on my cheek and said Insha’Allah, which is ‘God’s will’. These people over there - it doesn’t matter what bad things happen to them - they can accept it as God’s will. They’re deeply religious. It wasn’t God’s will, it was my fucking order. I gave the order to fire those rockets into that building, and I killed a family.”

Screwdriver shows the other side of the coin and finds the listener in a more comfortable 1950s America. A young child, no older than 8 or 9, adamantly preaches that one must be saved in order to escape the fiery wrath of Hell and the Holy Bible is the word of God. Later, it is revealed that his evangelical mother abused him, forcing him to roam the streets espousing the gospel to the masses.

While starkly different on the surface, each song tackles the same issue: the wound of lost innocence when human life is neglected, and the inadequate bandage religion represents. Riding Alone also implies that America has no right demonizing the Middle East as “fundamental”, as Islam hardly has a monopoly on extremism, tacitly condemning the Bush administration’s War on Terror (the war is more directly attacked during Fading Light and Broken Windows, later on the disc). While quite controversial, these tracks are truly the meat of this release.

This album is by no means perfect, but Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles certainly gets most of it right. In their portrayal of innocence, the band resorts on two separate occasions to the cliché of incorporating samples of children playing and singing, with varying degrees of success. The only track that is unsuccessful, A Million Little Explosions, is a bit of a misnomer, as the song never really explodes as promised, instead choosing to meander through several minutes of ambience before finding a bass riff and sticking with it. When the song finally begins to build some momentum, it abruptly ends. The effect is quite frustrating (one can’t help but wonder if the last five minutes was a bit of a waste), but when viewed in light of the album as a whole, the track seems more like a blemish than a flaw.

In the end, I decide that this album will not receive the ephemeral perfect score. Like I said, the album is not perfect. However, Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles was able to craft a sprawling work of unified concept to great success, a feat in and of itself. That they did so with complete independence, and less than a year’s experience as a band, is nothing less than monumental.

I have been struggling for a week now to write this review, and I’m still not happy with the end result. How can I convey the sheer magnitude of this release using just words, without resorting to fan-boy gushing or carrying on for ten pages? The answer is: I can’t. A Boldogság Minden Reményét Elragadták is just something you have to experience for yourself.

Key Tracks:
Fallujah Sky


  1. I saw what you've been writing through, is it alright if I like to you throuw me

  2. Hello! I just heard this album and searched for the band on google and I saw your blog. There is something I need to know. As I've read, you know this stuff well. Don't you know, that how many hungarian musicians are there in the band? 'couse I'm hungarian and the title: A Boldogság Minden Reményét Elragadták is a hungarian sentence and it means: "All The Hope Of Happyness Has Been Stolen" (in a close translation) I have to find out, what is this stuff. Please write me to the: e-mail adress! Thanks a lot!

  3. they're from new jersey, but I don't know if they're hungarian. you can send them an email at "fallujahsky AT". sorry for the delay.