When God decided to write a little concept jam called The Universe, he didn't have much in the way of competition that I'm aware of. When Gene Roddenberry decided to turn his daydreams into Star Trek, again, he didn't have many to contend with.
Local trio Colonizing the Cosmos, however, is releasing a concept record called The First Frontier, knowing full well that the whole concept thing's already been done a thousand different ways, and Johnny Q. iTunes barely has the attention span for a whole song, let alone a 15-track record.
In any case, Colonizing the Cosmos has a tough sell. Sure, you've got your Dust Bowl Ballads and your Dark Side of the Moons and your Leviathans. But you've also got Kilroy Was Here and Tales from Topographic Oceans and, you know, everything Rick Wakemen did on his own. Despite the merits all those records may have, it's the bombastic self-indulgence of the latter works that the general public thinks of when presented with a concept album.
"You have to tread lightly," says Josh Gates, who plays piano and guitar on the record. "It has to be done with taste, but that doesn't mean you should shy away."
The "First Frontier" theme was not some meticulous, grand creation; it came about accidentally. For several months, Josh Moyer (vocals, guitar) would send some folky melody to Michael Saviski (banjo, guitar, ukulele), who would further develop it and return it to Moyer for lyrics.
"We realized that a couple of the songs had the words 'space' or 'cosmos' or 'atmosphere,' and we thought, 'We can make this into a concept album,'" Moyer says. At first, the record's space theme seems as clear-cut as the early theme albums of Johnny Cash or The Ventures. But Moyer explains, "It's not a sci-fi album, though we use a lot of cosmic terms. It's about things that affect everyone."
Honestly, on my first listen, I'd lost my way by the 10th track. But then, after realizing that even In the Aeroplane Over the Sea took me a couple listens to really appreciate the work, I listened to The First Frontier a second time, then a third. While the record isn't exactly a desert-island pick (not yet, anyway), it's not a bad debut from three dudes singing about the universe over some sunny indie-folk riffs.
And there you've got it: the subtle beauty of le album concept. If you can commit yourself to the experience, you just may stumble on something pretty enjoyable.