Introduction: Mind.in.a.box is truly an underrated mastermind of an artist. Obviously, I consider him to be one of my favorites, as that’s the reason I’m stepping into his discography for the occasional review. But the man (named Stefan Poiss by the way) has a knack for immersing me into a world full of cyberpunk noir and technological existentialism. You see, each of the albums in Mind.in.a.box’s discography (sans R.E.T.R.O. but I’ll talk of that one another time), are merely chapters in a story focusing in on a currently unnamed agent and his interactions with his employer as he tracks a mysterious hacker in a world where the minds. Or at least, that’s what the first album is about. The world expands and grows more complicated as time goes on and I plan on revealing more and more about this world as I analyze each chapter of the story (though not all at once, I don’t plan on necessarily rushing through this discography. It could take a few months or so to finish it). I’ll be frank with you, as much as I’ve listened to Mind.in.a.box, I’m not really fully an expert on the full story but I have a rough idea of it all. Still, don’t take my theories and analysis as 100% fact (I mean, it’s a fictional story so none of it is factual by default). Feel free to ponder this guy’s stuff on your own.
Mind.in.a.box – Light and Dark (8.25): Light and Dark is our debut song for Mind.in.a.box so it has a lot sitting on it to pull us into the world. And while it is very minimalistic in the lyrics department, the overall tone is still a good introduction for the album. The arps and the drumbeat highlighted in both the beginning and end of the song make for a great technological drive along with the heavily distorted vocals (you’ll be hearing a lot of these). However, it’s the middle of the song, starting at about 1:40 that I really want to highlight. Here, the beat may have been taken out for a bit, but the bassline keeps the drive going and every other aspect of the song, from the swaying pads to the continued arps to the simple melody rising and falling with the rest of the song.
And It’s also here where we’re introduced to the main lyrical chorus of the song. Before I get into the lyrics (you’ll soon discover, I really love getting into lyrics), I’d like to comment on these two voices you hear in the song. The first you hear is a computerized female voice, which makes up a good chunk of the vocals throughout Mind.in.a.box’s discography. The second is a deeper throaty voice, which I believe are sung by our main character of the story (for now), the agent I mentioned in the introduction (though there are some songs with the first voice that work well with the agent’s story as well. Like I said, I’m not a full expert. I just enjoy the music). Also, just a fun little note. Stefan does all of the vocals himself. He’s just really good at vocal distortion
I feel sad, so left alone. Words are not enough for me to live on. These are the lyrics of light and dark and while they may notreveal much about the story, my enjoyment of these vocals do reveal a bit about myself. I’m no stranger to feeling depressed and isolated. My mind just seems to default to that mood. Trust me, we’ll get into all the existential ramifications my mind likes to ponder on more as we progress. It’s an inevitability I hinted at in my last review and the odds of such feelings bleeding out in this review are quite high. For now, let’s just sum up the fact I can relate to this song and leave it at that. There’s much more to get into.
Mind.in.a.box – Change (7.5): See, I’m all about change. I spend a lot of my life trying to change and improve myself into a better person than I was yesterday. The transformative development of all people is kind of one of my core values. So, obviously, I would enjoy a song titled Change. Well… Not necessarily. This is quite early on in the story so while change becomes important later on. This song is about the paradoxical desire and denial of change. Gotta be honest, I’m slightly conflicted.
Well, while I think it over, let’s take a quick look at the music of the song. While I still enjoy the Mind.in.a.box vibe, I don’t feel the music in this one stands out as much as in the last song. There’s a good solid syncopated drumbeat in the verses and some nice stabs here and there, but it never really immerses me like Light & Dark or some of the songs later into Mind.in.a.box’s discography. The music in the chorus isn’t quite as interesting to be honest: just a 4 on 4 drumbeat and some chords. The song does develop as it goes on so some arps get involved the second time around, but still, Mind.in.a.box can do so much better.
Alright, so the main issue with the lyrics of change is the paradox of desire and denial. Repeatedly, the speaker of this song desires change. There’s a great fear and loneliness expressed throughout the song. Yes, they desire change in their life, but I think the important part is that they refuse to change themselves but instead wait for someone else to change the core of who they are. They wait for life to get better instead of putting the effort forth to change themselves. And I’ll admit that this is an easy mindset to slip into. I’ve gotten into points in my life where I desire to improve but feel stuck and instead wait for life to change around me as I go through the actions. But in the end, I’ve found that it’s only when I take action for myself that change can occur.
As for the narrative itself, well this is more of a setup for the changes that the agent will find himself going through as the story progresses. An establishment of the theme. The agent can’t deny change forever. It will happen.
Mind.in.a.box – Falling (7.25): The next song on the album returns to playing form the agent’s perspective with the throatier vocals. Here we get into the existential pondering of the agent as he questions his purpose (oh boy, that sounds familiar to me). This song has a bit more of a drive than the last one with a more prominent bassline and a good fast-paced melody. The sound of this song overall is a bit lesser than many of the other songs on the album, but it still does work and it does have some good points to it. The deep breath taken by the agent at about 2:20 is a great touch that slipped by my ears the first couple listens, but now that I’ve heard it, that one breath will not go unappreciated any longer.
The lyrics in this song, while introspective, really just begin setting the scene of the situation for our main character. He feels as if he’s been falling into the cold night. Like I said, he’s a bit existential here, wondering where he is and why he’s there. Most importantly, he seems to have lost his memories This will come up later.
We’re barely scratching the surface here, so I don’t have too much to say specifically. We’ll go more in depth to the emotions of the agent as the discography progresses.
Mind.in.a.box – You Will See (7.75): One of the more surprisingly funky songs on the album. The bassline has a bit more of a bounce than I’d normally expect from Mind.in.a.box. But the funk doesn’t really interrupt the technological vibe that attracts me to Mind.in.a.box. Just gives the song a unique feel compared to the rest of the album. In fact there’s some points in this song (like the last minute or so) that have a more upbeat technological feel than usual. That last minute is actually my favorite part of the song. I get some nostalgic feels from it as it reminds me a tiny bit of one of my very first favorite artists (I’ll review Andy Hunter another time. He’s not a priority at the moment).
As for the lyrics, this song delves into the few memories that the agent does have. Thankfully, they’re not all erased fully. Unfortunately, they seem to focus on a past love of the agent. The whole past love thing does come up in the story from time to time and I’ll admit it’s probably my least favorite element of the story, but there’s a possibility I’ve simply overlooked it. That’s mostly because my attraction to the existential overshadows any hint of love. Love songs don’t really capture my attention and break-up songs especially are a bit lower on my list of enjoyed musical topics.
And yet… this one works. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard this before elsewhere (probably exists, but I either haven’t heard it, or was simply oblivious). Black doesn’t bash his former love (well maybe a little, near the end but that’s not the focus). He acknowledges that the time he spent in that relationship was a pleasant one, regardless of how disastrous it ended up in the end (apparently due to misuse of trust). Black has fallen far from this relationship, but it’s important to note that he doesn’t drown himself in sorrow either. You Will See is about rising up and overcoming the pain. He will climb up to the heights of glory he felt so long ago. He won’t let the despair consume him. It does sounds lightly out of spite that he aims to put his life back together, but there’s still a tone to it that’s oddly inspiring.
Mind.in.a.box – Questions (7.75) : Ah yes. The neverending onslaught of questions. This one’s a bit vague as far as the story goes, but it’s still important thematically. True to its title, this song is about the existential questions that constantly plague the mind of the agent. He fills the song with violent metaphors of his relationship with these questions. He can’t fully escape them. He can’t fully get rid of them. But worst of all, he can’t fully answer them. His mind will continually wander among the existential pondering of reality regardless of how it pains him. And it will continue until the day he dies. Yeah, this one’s a bit more desperate than the last few. I mean Mind.in.a.box has already proven to be somewhat of an edgy existential concept so far, but this song really delves into the almost nihilistic view of these never-ending questions. I find myself occasionally falling into the same mindset as the agent here (you may notice that I relate the agent in a lot of ways. That may have to do with why I enjoy Mind.in.a.box so much). I can get out of it occasionally, but it’s not an easy feat.
Almost forgot to talk about the music for this one. I feel like it’s a bit lesser than the rest of the album so far. Its edge matches the edge of the song’s lyrics. It’s almost a bit too much. This is particularly noticeable in the first minute of the song with the bassline. It’s not too bad. But it does take a little bit of time to grow on me. The song is a lot better during the more arpeggio focused section. Still, whatever part of the song I listen to, I’ve gotta admit it’s got a fantastic drive to it.
Mind.in.a.box – Waiting (8.25): Waiting is the first full-on storytelling song in the album. Yes, the rest of the songs introduced elements of who the agent is and the themes of this world. But this is the biggest trove of information we’ve had so far. There’s at least two of these each album, most of them focusing on the agent’s conversations with the other characters, though a few of the more recent songs in the discography focus more on reflections of past events or viewpoints from other characters (though those don’t happen until Crossroads and Memories, respectively.
(Just want to make a not before I forget, every single instrument as varied as they are from the guitar to the piano to the bassline to the arp, all blend together so well. Yeah, the focus of this song is more about the story than the music but the music is so outstanding I had to mention it. Ok. Back to the story now).
In this chapter of Mind.in.a.box’s story, the agent communicates with his employer about a hacker they’ve attached a trace to. For the moment all seems well. The hacker is unaware of the trace and doesn’t appear to notice the agent observing him. He appears to be looking for a mysterious woman that goes unnamed so far. The agent recommends taking the man out now, but it seems his employer recommends to stay according to the plan in place. He won’t be able to escape…
Of course, every chapter of Mind.in.a.box’s story raises more questions than answers. We’re now introduced to most of our main cast although one of them is simply silent on the other end of the phone. Still, the employer’s silence speaks volumes of unanswered questions. What is the significance of these two people the agent is watching? Are they working together and if so, why does the woman not recognize him (yet)? What exactly is it that the agent and his employer worry that this hacker might be able to do? And what will they do once the agent is able to corner the hacker? All of these questions will be answered. Though perhaps some of them will wait until another album. For now, let’s enter into the second half of Lost Alone.
Mind.in.a.box – Lost Alone (7.5): And so, we’re here at the titular track of this album, Lost Alone. New vocal style here. I’m not certain if this one appears as much as the other two we’ve heard so far. I’m not a huge fan of the final result. My guess, and this guess is reaching, is that this could actually be coming from the Hacker from earlier. Or maybe I’m overthinking this and it’s just that Stefan, like me, decided that this vocal style was too difficult to understand with its crushed distorted style (If he didn’t put all the lyrics on his site, I’d have a hard time reviewing it). Either way, it appears that someone is reaching out to the agent, telling him that he’s not alone in feeling lost alone.
It’s honestly rather encouraging to hear this song. Feeling lost alone results in some excruciating emotions in my experience. That may be why I enjoy listening to music that focuses on such concepts. I find comfort in the knowledge that someone else has a similar experience to my own. It makes feel less… well… alone. No one is truly alone. There is always someone out there that can sympathize. They might not be immediately present, and it might not be easy to find them, but they are there.
Mind.in.a.box – Walking (9.5): Yeah, I could definitely see myself walking to this song… or running … or maybe a happy medium between the two with some odd kind of powerwalk. Speaking of happy mediums, I find these vocals to be a happy medium between the two distorted vocals we’ve seen so far in this album: the more feminine style of Change and the overly crushed style of Lost Alone. And it seems that that list boost of flavor from change is exactly what the vocals from Lost Alone needed, because I absolutely love these vocals. Unfortunately, these vocals aren’t as common in the Mind.in.a.box discography as the other two styles we’ve seen so far (not counting Lost Alone). It does appear from time to time, but I can only think of two songs that use it off the top of my head and neither of them are as good as Walking, which I personally consider to be the iconic song from this album.
So, what is it about Walking I love so much? Pretty much everything! I’ve said I could definitely powerwalk to this so that makes it clear that there’s a good drive to it. The melodies and textures in this song are the most outstanding on the album. I always prefer to highlight a couple of moments that I find particularly enjoyable, but it’s really hard to in this case, because all of it is fantastic. But let me give you bullet point list of all of it because I need to share how amazing it is.
- I believe that little subtle melody right there at the 50 second mark is responsible for much of the vibe this song has.
- There’s a high-pitched short melody that appears once and only once at one and half minutes in, but that moment is one of the best parts of the song.
- The chorus in the middle of the song that starts at 1:54 has some fantastic ambiance to it with both the chords and the echoing drumbeat that fades in and out. Absolutely captivating. The fact that the chorus has fantastic lyrics (get to them in as bit) helps a lot as well.
- Immediately following that chorus is the best melody on the entire album. It has so much more energy to it and it contrasts really well with the typically gritty atmosphere that I’d usually expect from Mind.in.a.box. It doesn’t clash either. It’s just a great vibrant light in the middle of the darkness.
And then there’s the lyrics. As if this song wasn’t fantastic enough already. This song has the audacity to make me feel the perfect mixture of existential despair and the inspirational desire to move forward in life anyway. Well, that second part isn’t as immediately obvious as the lyrics about sadness are very nearly overwhelming. But I’m one who enjoys a bit of reflection of the despair I feel from time to time. Sometimes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the path we travel, especially when the future is so hazy. But the despair isn’t permanent. I’ve been putting a bit more effort into overcoming my fear of the unknowable future, and while I haven’t fully escaped the existential despair that threatens to overtake me, I have found myself able to resist it. I’m not going to just sit here and let the fire in my soul burn out.
I’ll keep walking forward.
Mind.in.a.box – Take My Soul (8.5): Take My Soul is the most upbeat song in the album. Doesn’t make it the best, but it does stand out compared to all the other songs that give off an underlying darkness to them. Take My Soul still adheres to the technological vibe that is Mind.in.a.box, but lot of the instruments in this song still have a slightly gritty feel to them, especially the lead synth in the chorus. And yet there’s some cleaner instruments as well, such as the stabs in the verses and the piano that appears in the intro, prechorus and intro. I feel that even the drums and vocals are a bit cleaner than usual. In fact, those clean vocals may even signify that this song isn’t sung by the agent (well what really convinces me is the lyrical content, but I’ll explain why later).
Take My Soul is all about escapism. It’s easy to feel that the reality we live in is flawed (not that perfection is really possible anyways) and we desire to escape from it. We imagine a perfect life and we wish to escape into it. Well, the singer of this song, who I believe is the hacker that Black has been following has made such an escape. No longer is he confined to the drab dark picture he paints in his first voice, but he instead immerses himself into a dream (can’t help but notice this word choice) in which he can find peace. It doesn’t matter to him that it’s unreal, that there’s not really anything there. That he is becoming complacent (a great fear of mine actually, maybe I should use this song as a wake up call for my own escapist habbits). He is living his dream. He has found escape…
Mind.in.a.box – Forever Gone (8.25): The hacker has escaped. The trace has disappeared. He is no longer cornered by whatever trap the agent and his employer have set in place. The man has completely disappeared and Black is only able to find him later at a bar, sprawled out on the ground with some unspecified technological gear nearby. He’s switched over to the other side. To an alternate reality made up of his own dreams. A place where Black and his employer can no longer find him. Their mission has failed…
It’s really hard to compare the two narrative tracks on this album. As far as the music goes, I think Waiting is a little bit better. It has a better blend of real instruments like the guitar and the piano while this song focuses almost exclusively on arps (not that there’s anything wrong with that). However, when it comes to the story itself, the stress of the agent losing his trace on the hacker in this song really has a stronger effect than simply watching the hacker from a distance. Plus, it has an additional chorus as a message from our hacker, taunting the fact that he has escaped the clutches of Black and his employer. He has escaped into his own dreamweb…
He is forever gone…
Mind.in.a.box – Lost Alone 2 (8.25): And so, we’re here at the titular track of the album… again… I believe that Lost Alone 2 is the agent’s answer to the message from the last Lost Alone. I’d consider this to be the superior iteration of Lost Alone. Mostly because the vocals are tons better. The themes are relatively similar. In a way, we’re all lost alone. Confused and isolated. Perhaps some more than others (and perhaps I’m biased due to my existential tendencies), but we needn’t be fully alone. Take comfort in the fact that no one is perfect and that there are people out there that sympathize with your struggles whatever they may be. We might not necessarily know this person. But I can promise they exist.
Not knowing where you belong is definitely a big theme in Mind.in.a.box’s discography. The agent’s future is riddled with the pondering of this question. The agent, like most of us, finds himself lost in a world that makes him question who to trust. A world that makes him question what is real. A world that tears apart his mind until he can’t help but question the very essence of his being. And yet, even in simpler times, before the storm that is about to happen to him. The agent is lost. He likely won’t ever fully feel certain.
But that doesn’t mean he has to be alone.
Mind.in.a.box – Leave (8): Leave is the closer to the debut album of Mind.in.a.box. It was where we end the first leg of out journey. A journey that has only just begun. As the closer of this song, Leave has a slightly more majestic feel to it. Not quite as dark, mysterious and brooding as the rest of the album. All of the melodies feel brighter, almost as if the rest of the album took place at the dead of night and this song is seeing the sun rise before the album fades away. Actually, seeing that this is a narrative album, it’s all too possible that this is exactly the case. After a long night of tracing the hacker and then finding nothing but an empty body, the agent finds himself in a mind-numbing situation. His mind is racing a hundred miles an hour and yet he’s paradoxically paralyzed in his doubt. He needs to find a new place. Somewhere he can clear his head.
And so, he leaves…
To be continued…
Conclusion: Mind.in.a.box is perhaps the most conceptually exciting artists I’ve ever heard. I’m not saying all music should have a narrative like this, but I wouldn’t complain if I saw it more often. However, I doubt any of them would be able to truly top Mind.in.a.box. Stefan has provided an excellent mindbending story exploring many mental twists that I seem to find quite relatable (not sure if I should find this concerning but I guess that’s just the case I’m dealing with at the moment. Black and I are quite an existential pair.). And as for the music there’s both a fantastic technological sound of his whole discography as well as some great vocals, be they clean, gritty, or distorted. All of this together makes for a splendid artist. The best part is that, as solid as this debut album is, it’s actually one of the lesser Mind.in.a.box albums in my opinion. It gets even better than this.
Final Score: (8/10)