Sound — 9
Unlike the majority of Devin's past work, the sound on this album is much lighter, makes far less use of compression and overdubbing, and seems to be more like a fair comparison with Pink Floyd and modern prog bands like Riverside and Porcupine Tree. The first thing most people will notice when listening to this album is that most of the guitars on the album are clean, and that Devy avoids use of distortion wherever necessary. This definitely leads to some beautiful moments, like on the second track of the album, "Coast", or on the studio jam "Ain't Never Gonna Win...". Acoustic guitars get some use on this album as well. Devin still carries some of his trademarks, however, as evidenced in songs like "Trainfire" and the highlight title track, "Ki". The clean guitars make the heavier sections of the album stand out even that much more. The album's instrumentation is ably handled by Townsend himself, along with previous Devin Townsend Band collaborator Dave Young on keyboard, Jean Savoie on bass guitar, and Heart alumni Duris Maxwell. Duris' performance is worthy of a separate mention here, as his drum lines have a certain grooviness never before heard on a Devin Townsend album. He's most definitely not a metal drummer, but he can lay down one hell of a groove. The album is a bit more chilled out, musically, than anything Devy has released to date, but there are still moments of intense heaviness, like "Heaven Send" and "Disruptr", epic moments like "Ki" and "Coast", and campy, tongue-in-cheek moments like "Trainfire". The whole album has a flow which can be best described as "orgasmic". A lot of songs tend to flow together and have a lot of peaks and valleys, as well as a lot of great moments with release of tension. The title track, for instance, has an almost lullaby-like quality for the first half, until a nearly Celtic folk-like guitar arpeggio part serves the second half with a huge buildup of guitar tracks, drums, Devin's trademark "choir of Devys" vocals, and continues until it all just stops, like it's pulling the carpet out from under you. A lot of songs on the album are like this. So sound-wise, it's not what you'd expect from a Devy album, but know deep in your heart that if Devy ever released a soft album, this is exactly what it would sound like. It ain't his best album to date, but it's his most interesting and fresh release in ages.
Lyrics — 9
Lyrically, Devy's always got some really obscure lyrics. With lines like "The fallout from the California glow/Toronto's frozen over/this every man should know/I've forgotten now" from "Coast", or "How in the world we gonna make everything alright?/How in the world we gonna make everything on time?/Train burning, all night burning.../Trainfire..." from "Trainfire", one can only speculate at the meanings of some of the lyrics on this album. But this is the first album Devin wrote entirely sober, so I'm sure that has to factor into the message of the album somehow. The lyrics do tend to match the lyrics quite well, reinforcing the chilled-out feel of the album. Vocally, Devin is still top-notch, but he doesn't use as much overdubbing this time, and usually relies on a more honest approach of just having one or two tracks of vocals with little to no compression or reverb. It certainly opens up your ears to the fact that Devin is actually a good honest singer. Not that we didn't know that before, but this is just reinforcing that. The lyrics are deep, but cryptic, so I assume people will be looking for hidden meanings in this record for a while. A great effort that will leave us scratching our heads for a bit.
Overall Impression — 9
Compared to previous Devin Townsend albums, it's almost impossible to call this "better" or "worse" than any other album. It's like a completely different entity, and it's best to take it for what it is. And what it is, is a great prog/ambient album. This is a great album to put on when you need to meditate, chill out, relax, etc. Some of the best ambient prog you'll hear, and almost post-rockish in some ways. The standout tracks on this album are definitely "Coast", "Trainfire", "Heaven Send" and "Ki". There's nothing wrong with the other tracks, though, and this album is sure to please almost any fan of Pink Floyd, Riverside, Porcupine Tree, or any other old-school prog fan. It's a bit of a separate album from Devy's usual stuff though, so I may not recommend it to someone wanting to get into Devy (instead, I'd probably recommend "Synchestra" or SYL's "The New Black"). But I definitely think this is a worthy addition to a collection for any Devy fan. Definitely worthy of at least a 9/10. A 10/10 is even deserved, but this album may bruise a few expectations of another heavy Devy album, so a 9/10 is more realistic. Definitely going to make my list of top albums of '09.