During my time writing for Paper Thin Walls, I briefly had a column looking at the overlap between music and prose. (It’s something that remains very much an interest of mine — this news item about Joe Pernice brought a smile to my face.) The first interviewee was Chris Eaton, novelist and singer/guitarist of the band Rock Plaza Central. Two years later, Rock Plaza Central have a new album, …At the Moment of Our Most Needing…, and I recently revisited Eaton’s work in an essay for The Rumpus.
Chris Eaton is not the first artist to manipulate the tensions between disorientation and tuneful bliss. He is, however, one of the few to do so across multiple disciplines, and it’s impossible to separate the concerns articulated in his music from those that occur in his fiction, or vice versa. In The Grammar Architect, an opera singer named Anne-Sophie is abducted and subjected to a series of operations that effectively render her inhuman. There’s a similar blending of identity, of the organic and the mechanical, in the concept behind Rock Plaza Central‘s Are We Not Horses?, an album told from the perspective of robot horses waging war on angels. Are We Not Horses? has beautiful moments, in particular the triumphant “My Children, Be Joyful” and the stark “When We Go, How We Go (Part 1),” but there’s a sense of intentional alienation throughout. This is not necessarily an album in which robots and angels are used metaphorically: when you hear a love song, it never quite leaves your mind that this is a love song sung by a robot horse. And when Eaton delivers a line like “separated angels from their wings,” it’s made much more visceral than one might expect, the cracks in his voice summoning sinew and bone.