For the last week it’s been extremely difficult for me to get the jazzy sway of The Musician’s Compass: A 12 Step Programme out of my head. A progressive rock companion to Del Suelo’s book of the same title, it loosely follows the same plot as the novel. Featuring the protagonist Devon of the fictional folk punk outfit North By Choice, listeners shadow Devon as he chases after fame and glory in the rock n’ roll world, only to find that the journey to stardom is often littered with a lot of demons to encounter along the way. Del Suelo is one of the most enigmatic figures in all of indie rock today, but in this record his diehard fans get to know a side of him that most artists in his position would never dream of exposing.
Devon, much like Pink in the legendary Pink Floyd rock opera The Wall, is a character who stands to both gain and lose everything in the heat of the spotlight, and it’s only when he starts to embrace the power of the music he yields that he begins to learn a little more about himself and shed the pain and trauma that comes with a life of artistic suffering. Much like the novel, we can’t help but stay glued to our headphones as the story unfolds, constantly wondering whether or not Devon is going to make it through to the light at the end of the tunnel, and more importantly, what will be waiting for him when he gets there.
The Musician’s Compass doesn’t get so progressive in arrangement that these songs couldn’t be released on their own. In fact, “Pack Rats” has done quite well getting the attention of listeners who would otherwise avoid progressive pieces completely. I think the problem with most concept albums is that the people responsible for making them frequently don’t know how, or to whom, to properly market them. But Del Suelo isn’t even concerned with the marketability of this album – it speaks for itself in terms of aesthetics and doesn’t need a big ad campaign to get people interested in its statement. By not caring about the bottom dollar, Del Suelo has actually discovered the perfect marketing formula.
It’s been a hot debate lately as to whether or not art rock, and really all of progressive music, has a place in today’s modern format where pop songs rarely have any continuity between each other on an LP, and most artists with such lofty ambitions have tended to veer away from the mainstream completely. I think that with The Musician’s Compass: A 12 Step Programme, Del Suelo proves that progressive rock can still serve a pretty important purpose in 2018 and beyond, and you don’t even have to be all that familiar with his work to be able to see the impact he’s having. I loved this album, and I think that with time and the right exposure it will come to share the same iconic status as other titanic releases of its medium have.