In-depth analysis by Rosa Nadine Xochimilco Sánchez
Minutes to Midnight’s new album After 1989: A Trip to Freedom is an incredible story and musical journey by Simone Silvestroni. It feels very personal while being uncompromisingly political. Each song is poignant and strong, showcasing a different historical moment or time, all along the main character’s path of discovery.
I absolutely love the story and the songs, especially the way historical audio samples are woven throughout the album, anchoring it in reality, and making it feel incredibly emotional and genuine.
Ultimately at the core of all the beautiful lyrics, very deliberate melodies, and incredible choice of historical audio samples, this is the story of family. Rosa Nadine Xochimilco Sánchez
The subject matter of the concentration camps, the Cold War, and the Berlin Wall all underline the music, and the two things are inseparable from each other as the stories are told. There are echoes of Pink Floyd and The Who in its cinematic scope, as well as darkly emotive lyrics and vocals you might find in tracks by Wolfsheim, Covenant, or Nine Inch Nails.
The use of mixed sounds to help develop the story also call upon techniques used by Cirque du Soleil and Gotan Project; and the album even calls back to the works of Robbie Robertson and VNV Nation by including deliberately chosen samples.
All of these techniques combine to bring together the bouquet of emotional notes which set the story and songs in a carefully constructed web of conflicts and questions, inviting us to follow the pilgrimage hand in hand with the main character.
We begin with Skinny Kid, a driving song which sets the stage for the landscape ahead. Setting up the why and the how of the story, we are introduced to the past and the concept of loss and longing within this family. With a memorable melody, the vocals coax you into what will become a meaningful tour through the past of this character and others, the focus often shifting, but the vision remains the same.
With a piercing guitar track and potent lyrics talking of “faceless strangers” and “a dream has swollen,” there is an inevitability in the language, a feeling that the stage is set and that we are here for the duration. Perhaps my favorite turn of phrase is that “He can’t stop the corrosion/ He’s losing his grip,” as there are so many layers to the lyrics, yet all of them are relatable. By the end of the track we have joined the trek toward truth and ready for more.
A Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot On A B-29
A Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot on a B-29 begins to show us the darkness in the story to come. The lightness of the music, using the xylophone as the faint tinkling of bells, is in direct contrast to the message of American president Harry Truman talking about the need to drop the Atomic Bomb, and a lovely gentle introduction to what will become a deeper feeling of disparity between the public and private spheres of the characters as well as the inconsistency between what the politicians are saying versus doing.
Truman’s message of saving American lives feels hollow knowing how many people died in Hiroshima, and we as listeners can really feel that dissonance through the music Simone has written; this discrepancy between the message and the delivery, the words and the actions.
In The Logic we move forward in the narrative, continuing with that same sense of dissonance and uncertainty. We as listeners feel unsettled as we are given both soft saxophone and hard guitar melodies at the same time, creating the feeling that something must be wrong. The lyrics are persuasive and pleasing to the ear, while their message is one of deep concern.
There is almost a sense of sensuality to this song, luring us deeper into the story, despite the lyrics clearly telling us things are wrong in the world. Despite the lightness of the musicality and the transition to delicate female vocals, we know we are being led down the garden path. “I’ve got my side, you’ve got yours/ We keep an eye open wide indoors” is incredibly heavy in concept — showing that trust is lost even within the family, making our story even more complex.
Being a student of history, and particularly this time period in America, 13 Days was such a pleasure to listen to, especially with the incredible choice of samples in this song. John F. Kennedy’s participation and handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a key moment in history, and a poignant time in America. While that alone makes this one of my favorite songs on the album, the opening guitar riffs make sure the listener knows that things are changing. The music and the lyrics continue the downward spiral of reality that began in The Logic.
The play on words in the lyrics makes you feel like you are under some sort of spell, but going down Alice’s rabbit hole at the same time. Despite being specifically political, this song brings it back to the personal with Helen being wistful and wishful at the same time, showing the real hope against the continually growing darkness.
The underlying bass guitar begins as background, but despite a more prominent guitar solo, it slowly becomes the primary music behind the vocals, technically representing the nuclear escalation we are experiencing in the Cold War and the uneasiness we feel due to that loss of control.
Unter Den Linden
Transitioning into Unter Den Linden, as the audience, the music cues us to know that this is the “let’s go” song in the album; the barricade has been built, and it’s time for action. This the call to arms for the audience. The language and the music combine to make us feel that the main character’s journey isn’t theirs’ alone, but one that we are all on.
Being the fifth song on the album, we are far enough along into the story to know what is happening, and what we want to happen. We are in the trenches with the main character and feel close to them. “Wake Up/ Gotta go now to the place we can’t be afraid of/ Join me” is an emotional call and response buried within the song; for at this point, there is a definite emotional turn for the listener, it isn’t just their story, it’s our story, and we feel it with a gravitas that has slowly crept in, almost surprising when you realize how invested you are. When we hear “This time I can be me/ This time we’re gonna be free” we are right there ready to join the fight.
The next song, Love Field, is my favorite in the album. It is the most emotional and heart-wrenching; it’s the zenith of the anxiety and uncertainty they’ve been feeling. Continuing with the dissonance of the cheering crowd against the serious music, once again juxtaposing our feelings and what we want to happen versus what we already know happened in the past.
The amazing sample accompanies the guitar building and building to what we know will ultimately be pain. What’s different here is that while we know we are listeners, voyeurs to the story, it does not feel that way. We’re not experiencing this from a distance, we’re all neck-deep in it. The lyrics of “Shaking his hand/ Bringing roses to her” are both simple and poignant. They are things we would do, could do; everyman sort of activities. The chorus continues with this, it could be us waving, cheering, shooting, reporting, dying. It is the reality that we can’t escape the situation and the reality of history no matter whom we are.
This use of JFK’s assassination to echo the darkness of the worst parts of the 20th century and the countless deaths and incredibly cultural pain that accompanied those events.
There, in the sea of feelings, we come to Requiem, a song that has our hearts in our throats. Here, we are allowed to feel sad, and it really lets the audience process all that they’ve experienced so far. It’s a hard transition from the death of JFK to that of Martin Luther King Jr, both assassinations, and both assaults on the hope of a brighter future.
The application of a beautiful sample reminds us that we have a choice. That there, in the depths of despair and loss, we can still choose love over hate. We are there with our main character as we realize we too are in the middle of everything, perhaps complicit even, but that we have a choice of where to go next.
The Day Before
The Day Before begins our path back through Europe as we revisit the musical themes and feelings from Skinny Kid, our opening song. We are invited to look at what is happening with our main character, and how they are changing. It’s 1983, and a chance for re-evaluation. It is a deeper opportunity for us to look at ourselves as well, of how we choose to live and how our choices can deeply affect us and others.
The song is the twin to Unter Der Linden as it is the group collective in action. It is the lines blurred between individuals when we are all looking for freedom. While we remain beholden to the world around us and the machinations of the politicians around the world, the quest for independence runs like a strong current through all people.
A pause on our journey, Berlin 91 continues the emotional wave of The Day Before and is a patch of light through the clouds. “The wind of East Berlin is ruby red when lost in your hair” is an excellent line and is incredibly evocative as we see the use of colour to show feelings in a different way. It acknowledges the darkness we have traveled through, and calls for us to really feel the meaning of that change.
We can reflect on our journey as the main character reflects on their own, and the powerful language of the recurring chorus is a hard line against complacency. “That was me watching the no man’s land/ This is me changing the life I planned.” It’s poetic and stalwart, and just as much as a call to arms as the feelings from Unter Den Linden. This is an incredibly powerful song and an excellent choice for the penultimate moment on the album.
The final song on After 1989: A Trip to Freedom is Sachsenhausen. The journey is so powerful on this album that I initially struggled with this song simply because I didn’t want the journey to end. The opening with the birds signals morning as opposed to mourning. It finally is a new dawn for our character, and really for each of us that has accompanied them. We have hope again, there is birth and rebirth.
We have come full circle, back to the camps, and we stand with our hero, speaking softly but strong as ever, and just as ready to fight fascism, defending the hope of the world against the darkness. The fantastic layering of vocals gives us the feeling that all incarnations of our main character are singing together, along with their ancestors — a kind of chorus through time — to all be there together, all in this together. Backed by gorgeous acoustic guitar we are comforted by the feeling of everything being together, of layers and layers of feelings finally settling into place.
The final emotive notes of the album are that of longing, but it is still loving. We look back at the journey we have traveled, but are looking out at the horizon to our bright future at the same time.
This album is a marvel of time and place as well as the use of music and lyrics to convey feelings and experiences that simply can not be conveyed with text. While the history of this time is incredibly dynamic, it is too often told in a cold and distant way, completely eliminating the intimacy of a true story so many of our relatives experienced.
Minutes to Midnight’s album is magical and haunting, giving the listener a way to both experience and reconcile the horrors and joys of the past; a journey of choices and consequences, a path of emotional growth. It is at once rock opera, gothic melancholy, family legend, and historical account, all blending together to create an album unlike any other. Technically brilliant, there are new things to hear each time, showing the absolute dedication of Simone Silvestroni and the intricate crafting of each and every song.
Ultimately at the core of all the beautiful lyrics, very deliberate melodies, and incredible choice of historical audio samples, this is the story of family. At the beginning we see the main character as apart from us, as other, and by the end, we are there with them, looking out at the lights, revisiting the jail, and remembering the experience as if we ourselves lived it. This is an amazing album full of great songs, many of which I found myself singing after just a few listens.
I look forward to sharing it with family and friends who love history and great music as well as DJs who I know would love to have several of the tracks on their dance floor. A great project, well developed, and beautifully accomplished, After 1989: A Trip to Freedom, is a journey I look forward to going on again and again.
A journey of choices & consequences, by IndieRepublik (Berlin)
With a dark and melancholic rock backdrop, the singer-songwriter uses multi-generational experience to explore themes of freedom, memory and personal growth, pieced together with immersive news coverage and a U-bahn journey from central Berlin to Sachsenhausen.
The first track Skinny Kid opens with some soft piano and a sombre Bowie-like baritone. The song begins with the narrator’s grandfather telling the young artist of his experiences surviving the holocaust. Eventually we hear the full scope of grunge instrumentation over a hard-hitting classic rock groove, the repetition of the title establishing an innocent perspective that we imagine will change over the course of the record.
After 1989’s themes are timely and human, and effortlessly connect with a modern audience. IndieRepublik
The cleverly named A Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot on a B-29 documents the grandfather and his friend fleeing Berlin toward the end of the war, also providing a parallel narrative of the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Again, Little Boy comes from a place of innocence which is cleverly complimented by a toy piano and some beautiful viola playing.
The Logic decries the decision to build the Berlin wall as being both “cynical” and “cyclical”, possibly a subtle reference to modern issues. Guitars range from twangy and sinister to aggressively distorted, giving this song more of an edge than the previous numbers.
13 Days leans further into grunge territory, with instrumental tones and chords hinting at Soundgarden and Chris Cornell. Lyrically the song deals with the thirteen days of the Cuban missile crisis, attacking attitudes toward nuclear arms at the time. A tastefully spacious rhythm section allows for an unrestrained operatic guitar solo, a particular musical highlight.
Unter Den Linden covers John F. Kennedy’s well received “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963. The hope is tangible in the line this time we need to be seen and the gentle, breezy chords underscore a more optimistic perspective.
The hopeful message is offset by the next track Love Field, which covers the crowd that greeted the president in Dallas an hour before he was tragically assassinated. These songs also connect the story to the present, as it’s clear the narrator identifies with these crowds.
Requiem jumps ahead in time to the assassination of Martin Luther King, another moment of lost hope that’s presented over a beautiful fretless bass melody. The atmospheric piece ends with a repetition of the words “compassion and love”, presented here as a way of processing pain during these shocking and upsetting events.
The Day Before is a heavily jazz influenced piece, with some of the most advanced and interesting playing on the record, particularly in the piano and saxophone parts.
The last two tracks bring the album full circle, with the narrator’s trip to Berlin in 1991 serving as the final chapter in the odyssey.
Berlin 91 is a touching tribute to a former girlfriend — and friend — who accompanied him on the journey, and finally Sachsenhausen is a beautifully raw ballad based on a visit to the concentration camp that once imprisoned the narrator’s grandfather. According to the artist, this was the experience that personally clarified the album’s central theme of prison, be it a physical, social or personal prison.
Having grown up with the cold war tension and inherited trauma, it’s clear that this was a life affirming event for the narrator and it serves as a satisfying conclusion to a deeply reflective album.
Overall there’s a lot to chew on with this record. The direct and immersive narrative allows history to speak for itself without being preachy or forced. The artist gives us a unique perspective of an outsider who manages to observe a great deal of pain without being directly subjected to it. Its themes are timely and human, and effortlessly connect with a modern audience.
After 1989 is an immersive and interesting experiment in storytelling that will leave listeners meditating on its heavy themes. If you’re short on time I would recommend checking out the album opener — it’s very likely that you’ll want to hear the rest of the story.
Notes on the historical concept album by Minutes to Midnight, by Matthey Graybosch
Simone Silvestroni’s grandfather was one of those abducted by fascists and imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He survived because his trade, that of a shoemaker, was one the Nazis valued more highly than they valued their hatred of whatever quality led to his imprisonment as a “skinny boy”: the first track in After 1989: A Trip to Freedom by Simone Silvestroni recording as Minutes to Midnight.
I listened to this using files downloaded after purchasing the CD through Bandcamp; Simone was kind enough to tell me via email there’d be a delay in shipping because he was out of town and didn’t have any copies on hand.
This is a concept album, but unlike many of those listed by Rolling Stone as the “greatest of all time” After 1989 isn’t a rock opera or an auditory science fantasy adventure. It isn’t even a horror story like the one with which Alice Cooper began his solo recording career.
It’s a 32 minute portrait of his grandfather surviving Sachsenhausen, living through the Cold War and dying but a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The former concentration camp, where the SS first experimented with methods of mass murder that have made Auschwitz and Dachau synonyms for industrial-scale atrocity, is now a memorial to the dead and a warning to the living that it could happen again if fascism were ever again allowed to take root.
After 1989 is also a portrait of the artist’s own journey to retrace his grandfather’s path and find his own way to a sense of freedom. As totalitarianism imprisoned his grandfather, so too was Simone Silvestroni imprisoned during the Cold War by East vs. West propaganda. As he told me via email:
My train trip to Berlin in 1991 is somehow replicated in 2017, this time travelling from Berlin to Sachsenhausen, with each station symbolising a moment in my reflection over WWII and the Cold War. The freedom in the title is twofold.
Knowing and understanding all of this, it feels almost sacriligious to review the album as if it were a mere half hour’s entertainment. This is a piece of a man’s soul and the history of his family set to music, and the craftsmanship and musicianship are worthy of much more prominent bands.
The first track in particular reminds me of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, though in this album we are not asked to empathize with a self-isolating rock musician who uses drugs to cope with unresolved childhood trauma. Simone Silvestroni plays a mean bass, and unlike many albums his bass and piano don’t get buried in the mix.
Even if this wasn’t excellent music, I would still recommend it. As the horrors of the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the all-pervading existential terror of the Cold War fade from living memory, it falls to artists to keep that history alive for future generations lest it be repeated.
Listen. This happened to somebody. It could happen again, if we allow it. It could happen to us. This is where we come in.
A trip to freedom, by Angry Baby
After 1989 – A Trip to Freedom is Minutes to Midnight’s first album and is what the concept was set up to showcase. It tells the story from Simone’s perspective as a grandson, following the trail of his grandfather who managed to escape Germany in 1945.
The album starts off at the very beginning of the story, with Skinny Kid, in which we hear about his grandfather’s escape after the fall of Berlin in 1945. This sets the scene literally and musically for the rest of the album with a fine gravelly voice and an unmistakably indie vibe.
Further on, the album gives us a sense of how Simone felt about both his grandfather’s war experience and growing up under the cloud of the cold war. The political face of Europe, particularly Eastern Europe has undergone immense change since 1989 and it’s easy to forget the isolation that East Germany and the rest of the Eastern Bloc endured, or the downplayed but ever present threat of the cold war turning nuclear.
The fall of the Berlin wall began a process that enabled Simone to retrace his grandfather’s footsteps in separate trips. The impact of this is explored in Unter den Linden and Sachsenhausen, the latter an acoustic filled, almost bleak sound that explores the affect of war on subsequent generations, not just those who lived through the trauma. We all have our prisons, and those that take a non physical form are no less confining.
Throughout After 1989, Simone uses archive material to accentuate the music and narrative, most effectively in Love Field, about JFK. The insertion of JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech and the commentary on the leadup to his assassination in Dallas are especially poignant and speak to our collective experiences of the last sixty years. Yet, you remain aware that the album is also a personal journey and one family’s history — the story and the music will stay with you long after the music finishes.
Reviews from the music industry
The project is very impressive both in conception and execution. I love the way you’ve chosen to tell the story, the visuals, and the juxtaposition of the two Berlin experiences. It definitely reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd—both in the scope of the concept album but also the blues-influence that runs through the music and informs the whole thing stylistically. It seems like the kind of project that might be embraced by that same fanbase.
Congratulations on creating a work that tackles an immense subject and brings a great deal of emotional depth and insight into it. Eric Beall, Berklee College of Music
Skinny Kid is a tender delicate number as Simone expresses emotional and harrowing themes through a bitter, icy piano and tense progressive soundscapes. With a steady beat pounding through weaving guitars and ominous rumble on bass, the track projects images of isolation and loneliness by means of sinister chilling twinkles and tender vocals.
The haunting backing vocals and lamenting pines on guitar have a chilling element as Simone portrays this harsh experience with sublime instrumentation and vivid musicianship. Indiebuddie
Deep and viscerally touching, Skinny Kid is a dark-colored narration where lyrics and music form a full-bodied and delicate sound balance, through which Minutes to Midnight makes us perceive, with mastery and in all its entirety, the bitter harshness, despair and oppression of the album theme. One of the most beautiful discoveries of this early 2020. Nova Music Blog
Love Field is another striking track from Minutes To Midnight. The video takes us through the arrival of JFK and his wife Jackie in Dallas before his infamous demise. Through a variety of black and white and colour video clips we see the joy, celebration and devastation created by one event as JFK is shot.
The entire video tells this story in an honest and emotional way. Simone fantasises about waving at Jack and Jackie, or leaning over the window of a sixth floor, or being Abraham Zapruder, standing still while everything changes. Indiebuddie
It really impacted me, I listened to the entire album which is something I rarely do with submissions. You haven’t heard this music podcast
13 Days captures the classic, warm, rock sound but with a modern approach that makes it completely relevant today. It combines a standard rock setup with electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums and vocals that are on focus as expected. It also contains sound effects and iconic spoken words samples.
The main theme of the song is the Cuba Missile Crisis. The song exists between two worlds. The inner and the outer. It starts in the outer world where the spoken samples and the lyrics get us in the mood and captures the tense of crisis from an external point of view. Then the song transfers us into the inner world, we are no longer an outsider but on the contrary, we are in the heart of the scene, where “Helen stares at the window”. This change does not only happen through the lyrics. It is the chord progression, the melodies, the whole song itself, that moves between these two parallel worlds.
Here, in Secret Eclectic we often ask artists what they would change in the music industry. An answer we often get is that bands, for reasons that relate to promotion, no longer release full albums. Minutes to Midnight released a full album. A concept album. We recommend listening to it in its entirety. Secret Eclectic
Track after track, Minutes to Midnight takes us to a journey that is both personal and part of the shared history that shaped our lives and the current affairs. Each song is a unique blend of beautifully crafted sounds and samples from crucial historical events, delivered with the help of incredibly talented collaborators. Silvia Maggi, from Bandcamp
It’s a greatly inspiring album, where the sounds blend perfectly with the strength of the feelings evoked, all mentioned facts being part of our collective unconscious although personal for the artist. Giuliana Graniti, from Bandcamp
This album is quite simply one of the finest pieces of storytelling ever put to sound. Christopher Carvalho, from Bandcamp
What a powerful piece of work. I would like to see it performed in Germany and England. A musical and historical journey with depths. BeaK, from Bandcamp
It’s the kind of work that really highlights the power an album can have when viewed as something more than a collection of singles. Exploring themes, ideas, and emotions that persists across tracks. It’s heavy, but in a good way. There’s a lot of interesting notes about the making of the album and the trips taken to retrace the grandfather’s steps. Charles Stanhope, own website
The crystal clear mix, the engrossing story, the lovely bass. I’ll often end up with the chorus to ‘Skinny Kid’ stuck in my head without warning.Mykie Frankenstein, from Bandcamp
Superbly crafted thematic album, with each song contributing to the overall experience. David Dellacroce, from Bandcamp
This album straight up changed my ideas of what kind of music I could write myself. Huge inspiration. Garrett Mickley, from Bandcamp
What a ride! The album is definitely a trip, and a very satisfying one to boot. The words “concept album” may carry some tricky baggage with them: shall I listen very carefully not to miss the point? Will I be forced to slog through convoluted passages with no musical relevance, stuck there to serve the concept only?
Rest assured, none of this applies to After 1989 – A Trip To Freedom. Listened to it three times in a row. Flows perfectly, loved the unique voice of it all – and the Pink Floyd vibes here and there (the bass in Love Field, the “Waters-esque” feeling in Sachsenhausen)!
Also, The Logic just sends shivers along my spine all the times and makes my forearm hair rise when the sax kicks in. That would be enough for a five stars cum laude, methinks. Bravo! Mattia Bassani, from Facebook
I love this concept. I’ve been really obsessed with history and WWI and WWII recently—reading nonfiction, memoirs, and historical fiction about the era made me kind of swear off dystopian fiction, because the real is definitely more chilling. I love applying this concept to music, and the music is great. Great guitar work! EvaViaMusic, from Reddit
I love your style. I was just saying to a friend of mine how it reminded me a little of The Final Cut by Pink Floyd. And from my perspective that’s a good thing, despite the mixed opinions on the album. Calum Spense, from Reddit
Really enjoying the album, so much work has gone into it clearly, a great concept and realisation. Dominic Hall-Smith, direct e-mail