Review: Brian Altano's Misanthrope

Misanthrope, by Brian Altano.

Editor's Note: the author thinks it wise to point out that he and Altano are not only former coworkers, but close friends. He has admitted that he loves Altano on more than one occasion, making this, clearly, the most unbiased "review" ever written.

Brian Altano’s latest indie instrumental effort, Misanthrope, doesn’t belong in current musical canon. It’s better served as the soundtrack to life on the sky streets of Neo San Francisco IV. Each piece on this ten-track record cuts a hole in time and gives the listener a glimpse of a city not yet born.

Glittering skyscrapers, droid hotels, and dirty streets are the norm here in this exquisite walk through a rainy memory in Altano’s head. Not only is each track a perfect visualization of these sci-fi set pieces, but a reflection of Altano’s own experiences. You can just about feel the lurch of subways, the smell of metal, and the taste of vodka with each stuttered beat.

A killer logo for a killer album.

The album opens with the title track Misanthrope, which introduces the listener to the sci-fi concept, along with the permeating dual between aggressive beats and gentle piano melodies. Altano and his producers layer the rhythm, vocal samples, and other ambient effects with supreme confidence. If this track is a conceptual unveiling, then it’s the wide, establishing shot of a cityscape rife with flying cars and holo-billboards.

One after another the tracks that follow give the listener a new image to ponder. The fourth track, Misery Loves Companies, enhances the sense of urgency, with a stuttered rhythm that’s just barely held in check after another old-time, sci-fi drama mutters to us through the speakers.

Fittingly, the middle track Break You Down provides a reprieve from the pacing of the record’s first half. A superb piano sample is later joined by a more structured, simple beat.

The second half of Misanthrope once again builds up speed during Let’s Try This Again, with a sensual tempo and ambience befitting a club teeming with bodies and laser effects. Altano displays his flexibility here by creating vastly different moods with similar sounds, all wrapped up with that same, sci-fi concept.

The next three tracks enjoy phenomenal guitar work by Altano’s friend Thomas Rakowitz. The trio of tunes, which opens with One a.M., reminds us at last of Altano’s life-long passion with gaming. An excellent mix of synth and Rakowitz’s guitar paint yet another perfect picture of our futuristic skyline.

But the highlight of Misanthrope’s latter half comes in the form of Silver Shank. It appropriately opens with another old-timey sound bite – a voice warns us of a “distress signal,” before a string of filthy cymbals sets the stage for Rakowitz. The guitarist shreds down a dark alley rising with sewer steam. Time periods bleed together as Altano and Rakowitz chase the listener down the very setting they've created.

Might as well be Neo San Francisco IV. Credit.

Fortunately, the high-stakes album sticks a perfect landing with Take It All. The final track repeats the phrase “the whole world is yours” over a thrilling drum and unnerving piano pairing. Is it a promise? A threat? Either way, the listener is escorted out of Altano’s imagination and back into reality, which is left much duller after the prior 35 minutes spent in another time. Another place.

Needless to say, Altano kills it with Misanthrope, which provides a perfect backdrop for train rides, night drives, or just chill afternoons in front of your stereo. Take a trip through Neo San Francisco IV and pick this record up. No question.