When those dwarves started chanting, I was immediately hooked.
This month, Paul Shapera released the long-awaited album, The Broken Cyborg, A Biopunk Fairytale, the second installment of his newest trilogy. The first installment, The Forgotten Meme, a Cyberpunk Fairytale, followed a small cyber creature on a quest for love and belonging. Her legacy continues in this installment, through her child Jane.
This narrative album falls into the genre of “Biopunk,” both in concept and sound. The latter one was a challenge Paul Shapera sought to accomplish and achieved. I expected “biopunk” to be something akin to techno-pop, but I did not expect the jazziness. During some tracks, I hear sounds like bubbles imbued with electricity, popping and sparking as new ones are blown and delicately lightly flow though to air. Sounds like harps playing in a Greek mythos begin the first narration, and then heavy synths ensue. Its shiny, bubbly, and static all at once. Think of a Funhouse, mixed with a neon-jazz bar drifting in the cosmic belt. Woodland flutes occur at other intervals, as well velvet-smooth saxophone. Pleasant beep-bop sounds are sprinkled throughout. Other times, it’s a lot more techno, like in Bio6, with familiar cyberpunk elements at adrenaline-inducing tempos as warfare ensues. As the setting changes, so does the auditory experience. I especially favor the visit in Bio8, which has tribal influences and tells a quaint legend.
There’s a lot of little references fans of the Shaperaverse will pick up on, and larger unveilings that satisfyingly compliment and adapt the established lore. However, a newer fan of New Albion, or someone who’s never come across any of Paul’s works, doesn’t need to quickly inhale every bit of media associated with the world. The Broken Cyborg, A Biopunk Fairytale sturdily stands on its as a well-wrapped fairytale. Looking into the short stories, songs, and podcasts that further delve into the history of New Albion will no doubt intensify understanding of concepts and connections with characters, but in the end it’s entirely supplemental, and up to you to choose to dive into.
Another note I’d like to add before we get into to meat of things is the preparation Paul took into the song titles. At first, I thought he wrote them to look like computer generated logs, as the setting is rather futuristic and each song title follows the pattern of Bio[0,1,2,…] with Mandarin characters. However, this gives two purposes: reading one of these song titles won’t spoil the story for you, and the style characterizes the narrator of this tale, who’s first written language is Mandarin.
WARNING: After this point, you acknowledge that you are crossing into a realm of text that contains spoilers, crucial lore, and the details of this biopunk fairytale.
We’re immediately thrown into a news report, detailing a failed Mars shuttle and a declaration of war by Cascadia onto the fairy city of Avalon, as well as an upsurge in anti-Fae violence. The city of New Albion is especially seeing growth in this discrimination. Since this isn’t re-touched on later in the album, it’s a safe guess to say this little tidbit is a glimpse into what will be the plot of the next album, or even the Space Opera planned for far-in-the-future release.
The Post-Human Han-Mi is back again to spin this new tale and gives us the backstory of the shanty town in the center of a park in New Albion, a sanctuary for “neo futurist hippies, crunchy cyberpunks and transfuturist modification junkies.”
Xander Cael is introduced, a genius in biotechnology that now calls the shanty town their home. They were expelled from college not for behavioral reasons, but for going “too far” with their studies, experimenting with DNA splicing and mutations. Xander’s Mom was a child during the Atompunk Opera, which means this narrative is just two or three decades later. Xander and their mother escaped from what remains of the Voodoopunks in fear for their sister’s health, which only worsened. That’s where their passion for Applied Biology came from – to rescue their twin from remaining as “a sad, insane, flesh statue.” So now, they reside in the park within the shanty town, continuing to further their experiments, and do some interesting jobs along the way. One of these jobs turns out to be creating Jane, a cyborg built from the bio-essence of the little meme and DNA from Rebecca. Jane’s birth is a success, and overtime sees Xander like her third parent.
Time passes, and we’re transported to the Mayor’s office at 3am. Exhausted, she sings about her woes as being the big decision maker and about a note sent by the dwarves. The last time the dwarves sent a message above ground was right before the events of the Steampunk Opera, but this time around the mayor takes action. When she said “unleash the dogs” my heart skipped a beat. Bio6 Got me so hyped I almost cried. The Blood Red Dogs are back and REMASTERED. And honestly, they’re terrifying. I would quote one of the lines, but I don’t want to repeat those threats on this site. In fear of the new epoch as warned by the Dwarves, the mayor orders them to kill every outcast of the shanty-town. However, time is fluid, and the board was already set. She didn’t prevent any catastrophe by this eradication plan; if anything, she did just as she was meant to. Rebecca gets shot and dies (not explicitly mentioned in the song, but addressed on Paul Shapera’s blog), and Jane gets injured during gunfire- becoming the “Broken Cyborg.” Her, Xander, and others successfully escape into the underground.
Lloyd makes a guest appearance, advising them to go down a tunnel leading into a faerie realm and leaves them with “I sincerely wish you good luck and I’m sorry things have to go the way they will.” They cross through and we find the 30 survivors face-to-face with the Albino Tribe. After years of waiting, we’ve finally learned why the Albinos reside within and continue to build the tunnels of the underground. Our group travels onward, but Jane is in a state-of-death, as powered as an empty battery and as ravaged-looking as roadkill. They take refuge in the fairy city of Victoria, where they hear the story of another god, as well as how faeries and humans came to be.
5 minutes and 30 seconds of a *whole bunch of fairy shenanigans* almost drove me insane. I never knew when it was going to end. I don’t hate it- far from that- but during the first listen I was not elated. When you’re so ready to continue with the story, and then you start hearing voices that sound like pre-pubescent Oompa Loompas, it’s a little perplexing. Listening through the track a second time, I thought about how it could make someone go insane if it was played in and endless loop in a dark chamber. As quoted by the lovely Lloyd Allen, “…the faerie realms are not for everybody.” As we find out, staying in a faerie realm seems to affect the long-term mental health of humans negatively, like radiation. So, since we’ll probably never be put into this sort of situation, this interlude of faerie tom foolery was gifted to us to simulate what it would be like to be stuck in one. A brilliant addition to add, as well as possible foreshadowing for what will become of Xander.
Jane later awakes, altered by magic and now adorning wings. Turns out, Xander and a few others decided to learn and experiment with Fae magic to heal her. However, fae knowledge comes with a price – their mental stability. In addition, to replace the limbs she lost, they sacrificed theirs. So, horrifyingly sad, Jane wakes up and finds Xander as an insane torso and right arm. However, they left behind for her a makeshift textbook of their findings. After some well-deserved fae-re-enhancements, the refugees go back through the tunnels to take back their home. Thus, in a grand battle of guns, guts, magic, and mayhem, the colony of Xandoria was formed.
Jane, sadly, grew up fast. Not just because of her biology, but because of the tragedy that ensues as the shanty town is invaded, as well as when she wakes up to the remains of a shattered Xander. She “matures” as they escape into the underground, where her voice noticeably drops by a few octaves. Waking up from a long sleep in a new, winged body further symbolizes this metamorphosis of form and character. Potentially, even the new era.
In the Steampunk Opera, we were introduced to dolls which became restrictive vessels for those brought back from the dead. In the Dieselpunk Opera, the Blood Red Dogs were like plastic soldiers, routine and compliant to orders. John O’Brien was the star action figure, the government’s super soldier constructing a lost man into a pawn of metal, wire, and flesh. The Atompunk Opera had those morally terrifying experiments with fetuses, as well as members of Arcadia Corp. choosing to transport their consciousness into machines. Each opera keeps some sort of doll or vessel component in the narrative, created from man’s urge to challenge something beyond their natural control. Annabelle beat death, the government and Voodoopunks aimed to end a conflict through extreme control of free-will, and the survivors of Arcadia Corp. dodged the repercussions of trying to live blissfully in Elysium before it was their time. They dealt with issues and powers they were not meant to possess, and the according repercussions followed.
The Great-Three Wheeled Engine, as its name suggests, has three wheels: Material, Transcendent, and Magical. Those previous actions all perfectly fall into the Material Wheel, which aligns with the timeline and facts given to us in a short within Lost Fables of New Albion. Taking place right after the Atompunk Opera, we are given a quick synopsis from a dwarf that humans prospered due to the Material Wheel being in its dominant arch, but the Magic Wheel will soon begin its ascension. When asked if human beings will survive this change, the dwarf replies “It’s possible [they] don’t. Then again, it’s possible [they] just become unrecognizable.”
From what we hear in this album, the time gap between the Atompunk Opera and this one is relatively short. So, we can attest that what that dwarf was alluding to coincides with the events that have or will unfold. If the epoch of man and the Material Wheel is coming to a close, then there must be a final “doll” similar to the subjects mentioned previously. From my analysis, this doll imagery can be seen in two things: Jane before the raid on the shanty town, or Xander when Jane wakes up in Victoria.
Let’s go into the first possibility. Xander built a child for the little meme and Rebecca by both organic and mechanical means, and like any young child she was loved, protected, and dependent on her parents. When the park is attacked, her perfect dollhouse of a town was ripped apart, and she herself was battered by people she never wanted to play with. She can’t even escape by herself because so few pieces are left intact. This being, originally of material means, essentially dies and is reborn as a being of magical substance. Following her awakening, the other shanty town survivors choose to adapt as well with the use of fae magic.
Now, concerning the second outlook. Xander’s final form is truly a tragic one. They practically dedicate their life to uncovering all the mysteries and mechanics of biology and trans-human endeavors to save their sister, and in the end become a “sad, insane flesh statue” as well. In part, this is due to them, a mere human, experimenting beyond their natural threshold with faerie magic. In Xander’s case, the term “insane” is taken to its absolute limit, as well as the art style of their form being abstractionist. In that state, they might as well have been a doll. They were able to save Jane from that fate, igniting a revolution.
It’s possible that in the future on its way, humanity will be wiped out and replaced with this new species of fae-human hybrids, as hinted at by that dwarf.
There’s this intrinsic, engaging quality that Paul’s music has on me and other fans that are rarely felt with other musicians, or even media. He emotionally destroys us. He fabricates and develops characters we love in such a short time, and then rips them away without warning. Their exit is usually in a traumatic way, making us tear up when we think about it. But that’s the thing- we keep coming back. When movies have very cringy or painful parts, I usually avoid them or wince rethinking about it. But I just adore revisiting Paul’s stories. Maybe it’s because there seems to always be enough blissful melodies, happy moments with characters we’ve lost, or loads more mysteries to uncover those moments of intense loss even out. Paul, killing [insert loved character’s name here] really breaks our hearts each time, but please, continue. You do fantastic work.
The events of this album and the one to follow will no doubt lead into the next installment, tentatively titled The Lost Fairy, A ___punk Fairytale. The newscast forewarned impending human-fae conflict, and the revolution in the shanty town will probably worsen the situation and safety of remaining fae in the city. Hopefully, the characters in Fairy Tales for the Lost and Wandering and Fairy Tales for Homeless Faeries will finally intersect with our fair city of New Albion and this new cast of hybrids.