Good music gives you a crystal-clear mental image; great music lets you create your own.
In fairness, it's easier for the latter to occur when listening to an instrumental band, because there's obviously no lyrics to guide your thoughts, but it's no less impressive when a band like the American Dollar can come along and give you a perfect blank canvas to draw your own stories on.
Such is the case with Atlas, their followup to 2008's A Memory Stream.
With a healthy dose of instrumentation and a healthy does of electronic elements, the American Dollar create such grand, shimmering soundscapes and such delicate pockets of sound that the album is ripe for the background of a dramatic movie scene. But it's your movie.
When "A Few Words" open the album with gorgeous piano work awash with synthesized beats, it's easy to see a car cruising through the desert at night with the top down, a slow-motion conversation happening under paper lanterns on a warm summer night, or the rain pounding a dimly lit street--the picture is entirely yours to draw. And in all likelihood, you'll never see the same thing twice. That piano work is just the beginning, and it becomes louder as the song carries on and some soulful guitar work enters the fray and carries the song out, carrying you to a completely different frame of mind than you were in when it began.
Not content to paint from the same canvas throughout the album, the American Dollar pick up the tempo and the mood with "Fade in Out," an uplifting track that relies less on piano and more on electronic, synthesized elements to speed the pace and brighten the outlook. A quiet pitter-patter can be heard throughout, as bells and chimes dot the song until a brief section of what sounds like nothing more than a heartbeat leads into an explosion of guitar and drums. It's such a compelling piece of music, and one that sounds like a perfect lead-in to a movie's climax; it's where everything comes together.
And the same could be said of almost every song on the album.
There's no weaknesses. When the American Dollar's electronic side is at the forefront, with its eerie undertones and pounding echo, that sounds their focus. When guitar and drums lead the way, that sounds their focus. Both aspects of the album are so in tune with one another that songs like "Equinox" can blend the most serene, entrancing moments with rousing crescendos and it just sounds effortless. It's a testament to this duo that they're able to create such spellbinding pieces, songs that can carry so much weight individually, all the while being part of the greater whole.
Great music indeed.