A triptych of chemical destruction, sideshow oddities, and pulp punk power, The Character Trilogy proves good things come in threes.
A review of Roberta, Catherine, and Casey by Dalton Deschain & The Traveling Show
As my Halloween review of Maggots: The Record might have told you, I’m a big fan of narrative albums, especially rock operas and musicals. There’s something really special to me about the idea of treating a record like a book you can’t put down – following every storyline to its end and every beat like a word. This goes double for horror stories. I’m an absolute sucker for a spooky musical.
That’s why I couldn’t put down or pause Dalton Deschain & The Traveling Show’s “Character Trilogy” until I’d finished the last notes on Casey.
The “Character Trilogy” is a three EP cycle that was released over three years — Roberta, Catherine, and Casey — but this isn’t where the band got started.
Their first release (barring the first single, released seven months before the record) was the five-song record The Collateral Vignettes. This was another concept album – vignettes attached to a larger apocalyptic narrative yet to be told – showcasing the collateral damage of a fictional Dalton’s rise to power in Detroit: deadly first dates, rat-trapped innocents, and poor Catherine Darlowe (more on her in a moment).
While these were well-done songs in their own right, I found myself more captured by the “Character Trilogy” myself – more polished and more accessible in their own connected but separate stories.
I’m folding all three records into one review, so I’ll go over the overarching pieces first.
– Dalton’s lyricism is stellar – there’s so much emotional meat and deeply sown story in each song. I kept wanting to know more about these characters as I peeked into their lives, only able to grasp enough to get a gist. While I get why that is – it’s meant to be only a peek in, enough to hook you into the story so you keep coming back to see what happens – I still wish they could be longer records.
– The singing is wonderfully done: Dalton’s vocals drift from slow and calculating to gloriously frantic and wild, and Jo Kroger’s background vocals and harmonies are soaring and beautiful.
– The stories across each record are unique and vivid. I’ll get into more detail below, but they’re all really well done. It’s clear that the over-arching work’s been crafted with a lot of love and care – the kind of care that shines through on all three records.
– The evolution of the band’s clearly outlined over the three records: they get clearer, crisper, and varied over the years.
– The album artwork (done on by Roberta by Jacob Cooper and on Catherine and Casey by Katie Ann O’Brien) is gorgeous. I want a print of the Catherine art for my wall.
– They can be taken in any order, so don’t worry about missing something if you go out of order.
Now, onto my notes for each individual record.
Roberta: This is the first album I’ve ever heard that samples Tod Browning’s film Freaks (sampled on “Interstitial: Don’t Cry Mein Liebchen”) so that’s neat! I loved the contrast between the hard-rocking anthem to defiance “Freakshow” and the more tender love song “Different Constellations”.
Catherine: Admittedly, while this album was very good, it was the least favorite of the trio for me. I really liked “Approximate Girl” and the multitude of references to Dadaist Tristan Tzara but I couldn’t really understand what was being said on “Interstitial: Approximate Man” and “Tin Laurels” just didn’t hit me.
Casey: My personal favorite of the trio, and the only one not sporting a love song (although “Man/Thing” could be seen as a love ballad from Casey to himself) I found myself jiving heavily with “Rabid” and the hints of unwilling brutality we see of Casey. This is also the only album of the three that doesn’t sample or use any outside material in the “Interstitial” that I could hear – unless you count sampling hints from “Rabid”. I also really liked the lyric “Flopping onto land like the creature from the Flint lagoon”. It was eerie and made for a good visual.
In conclusion, I was absolutely dazzled by these three EPs and I highly recommend them.
Deschain and his Traveling Show have something remarkable going here: something that’s evolving and shifting with the years without shedding its freakshow skin, becoming far greater than it began as.
And I’m terribly excited to see where the Show travels next.