(guitarists Alex Hall and Zak Riles, bassist William Slater,
and drummer Emil Amos)
played instrumental post-rock of a soothing kind.
The vignettes of The Burden of Hope (Neurot, 2003), driven by the
violin, were evocative and atmospheric, and covered a lot of ground.
The Burden Of Hope transitions from
sleepy jazzy noir to heroic climax in the best tradition of post-rock dynamics.
The agonizing opening violin solo leads into the
spectacularly anemic sub-blues jam The Deed.
The melodies are so gratingly pathetic and solemn that here and there
one hears eachoes of Zappa's mock-orchestral "genteel" music
(In The Beginning).
A folkish romp turns into rowdy southern boogie in Space Prophet Dogon.
A mournful tremulous "whistle", a war-dance beat and western movie guitar twang
sculpt the pathos of White Flag before it
takes off with distorted psychedelic guitar worthy of Syd Barrett-era Pink
For the sake of variety
there is also room for the brief mournful guitar elegy a` la Leo Kottke of Lord I Hate Your Day,
for the funereal mood piece The March, and
for the relatively free-form Invocation.
Canyon Hymn ends the album in quiet undertones, desert music for
meditation and contemplation.
There was more interaction among violin, piano and even saxophone on
Redlight (Neurot, 2004) but sounds generally less austere.
Despite the grandiose, waltzing theme of Dargai and
the tender "ballad" New Lystra, these instrumentals
are also a lot less melodic (or their melodies are a lot less engaging) than
the first album's instrumentals.
There are hints at the past
(The Volunteer harks back to the psychedelic ragas of the 1960s.
and Worksong sounds like the
postmodernist deconstruction of vintage marching bands) and there
are experimental moments (the loud and noisy High & Low,
the seven-minute quasi-flamenco crescendo of Fevers).
There is only one moment of real pathos, with
the desperate overtones of Redlight.
Mostly, this is too lightweight to leave a trace.
Interpretations Of Three Psychedelic Rock Songs From Around The World (Latitudes 4) (Southern, 2005) delivered three surreal covers.
Black Tar Prophecies Vol's 1, 2, & 3 (Important, 2006), originally released as EPs, upped the ante by providing an impressive catalogue of ideas,
and occasionally approaching the expressionistic intensity of the German band
The bulk of the album comes from the EP
Black Tar Prophecies Vol 2 (Aurora Borealis, 2006):
the hypnotic, repetitive and Indian-tinged
Back To The Monastery,
the sublime post-dub cosmic fantasy Black Tar Frequencies,
the detour into stoner-rock of Belgian Wake-Up Drill,
and the simpler nocturnal guitar blues Smokey Room.
A split EP with the Red Sparowes yielded
the aquatic dub-jazz nightmare of Bad Bhang Recipe,
the Middle-eastern shuffle of Stray Dog,
and the eight-minute droning cosmic freak-folk meditation of Black Tar Prophecy.
Finally, the album compiles the haunting Erosion Blues, reminiscent
of jazz-rock of the 1970s, and its extroverted counterpart
Burning Off Impurities (Temporary Residence, 2007), structured in longer
pieces, used keyboards and sampling to disorienting effects,
creating a genre-neutral genre, a
prismatic cauldron of estranged musical stereotypes from
jazz, folk, world-music, etc.
There is a general disorienting strategy at work, anarchic guitar tones
colliding with geometric rhythms, loose abstract sections morphing into
overly structured sections, shapeless counterpoint revealing hints of
old-fashioned genres, etc.
The Middle-eastern death march Soft Temple is dotted with psychedelic dissonance.
Drawn Curtains bridges acid-rock and neoclassical music.
The propulsive jam Outer Banks nurtures an undercurrent of sinister
The furious crescendo of Origin-ing peters out in an extended dreamy
The music can be convoluted, but, when the combo sticks to a more conventional
balance of elements, the result is melodic and rhythmic fantasias such as
Silk Rd and Dead Vine Blues, all the way to the
melodic apotheosis of Burning Off Impurities.
The focus was shifting towards timbres and colors and away from wild
dynamic excursions (the abused trademark of post-rock).
Despite thicker instrumental harmonies,
the mini-album Take Refuge In Clean Living (Important, 2008)
still refrained from all-out sensory aggression, but dissonance played an
even larger role.
There are gloomy rumbles at the beginning of
Stoned At The Taj Again that evoke alien worlds before the stringed
instruments and the drums engage in their martial raga-like crescendo.
that ends with a whirling breathless industrial dance.
PTSD lays down a floating carpet of metallic "Chinese opera" guitar tones
and then superimposes a scenario of loose cosmic sounds, an elegant essay of
post-psychedelic chamber rock music.
The language is so fluent and smooth that pieces like Take Refuge
evoke classic prog-rock of the 1970s (witness how
the exotic-instrument strumming and the western-movie twang blend
in an heroic Morricone-esque apotheosis).
It is not only atmosphere: 11th Hour intones a
soaring guitar melody woven into a fabric of
baroque harpsichord tremors and "Indian war dance" rhythm.
The mystery of their instrumental music is well embodied in the closing
piano elegy Clean Living, amid sloppy playing, droning nebulae of
electronica, detuned instruments, languid strings and a general sense of
Doomsdayer's Holiday (Temporary Residence, 2008), their "heaviest" album
yet, continued to filter and recycle their countless influences
(folk, jazz, world, psychedelic) but often within the same (mostly short) piece.
The quartet did not need a lot of time to perform open-heart surgery on
the history of music.
Even the most stable structures were exploring a vast landscape, from the
smodlering stoner riffs of
to the stately, windy Pink Floyd-ian elegy Acid Rain (that could have been on Momentary Lapse),
from the post-Hendrixian romp of Reincarnation Blues
to the gentle Zen vignette The Natural Man,
from the pop-metal indulgence of Predestination Blues
to the abstract electronic dissonant poem X-Contaminations.
The most sophisticated concept is perhaps
the jazz-noir hallucination of Immediate Mate,
one of the few rock compositions to resurrect Peter Green's End of the Game,
Emil Amos resurrected his solo project Holy Sons with
Drifter's Sympathy (Important, 2009) and
Criminal's Return (Important, 2009), two collections of
psychedelic folk-rock with drum machines, and the sci-fi concept
Survivalist Tales (Partisan, 2010).
The Grails returned to
the organic and intense music of
Take Refuge In Clean Living
Deep Politics (Temporary Residence, 2011),
hiding the complexity of their scores behind a veneer of elegance and epos.
There are still hard tones in Future Primitive, with exotic passages
sandwiched between a syncopated funky guitar and a metal guitar melody,
but the album is mostly mellow and user-friendly.
short intermezzi like the classy, funereal Daughters Of Bilitis,
it is hard to call this "post-rock" anymore.
The eight-minute Almost Grew My Hair is simply a melodic fantasias of the classic prog-rock era.
The album contains her most melodic effort yet,
the soaring Morricone-esque theme of All The Colors Of The Dark,
with the melodramatic Deep Politics a close second.
These are cinematic pieces that would work well as Hollywood soundtracks.
The nine-minute I Led Three Lives
is the atmospheric and melodramatic peak of the album, and it is emblematic
of their new form of art: vividly linguistic, profoundly
emotional, tenderly melodic, pervaded my metaphysical mystery while grounded
in very corporeal rhythms.
In general, however, the arrangements and the production get too close to
background supermarket/elevator music.
The Holy Sons project returned with
The Fact Facer (Thrill Jockey, 2014) and
Fall Of Man (Thrill Jockey, 2015), albums where at best he sounds
like Neil Young fronting latter-day Pink Floyd;
three volumes of rarities and unreleased music titled Lost Decade.
The Holy Sons' In the Garden (2016) contains more traditional
melodramatic songs like
Robbed and Gifted, Pattern Gets Cold, Original Sin,
occasionally mimicking latter-day Pink Floyd.
The Grails returned with the elegant instrumental album
Challice Hymnal (Temporary Residence, 2017) that contains
some of their most captivating compositions, but also a lot of filler.
Challice Hymnal is
romantic and atmospheric like a spaghetti-western theme,
and no less cinematic is the magniloquent, orchestral Deeper Politics.
The ten-minute neoclassical adagio After the Funeral is ruined
by the last two minutes of self-mocking orchestral instruments.
Pelham, on the other hand, opens like a techno-pop locomotive before
turning into a Joe Satriani-esque
guitar showcase, and New Prague is their venture into stoner-rock.
But what they do best is to craft enigmatic moods; hence the
ambient-psychedelic vignette Empty Chamber and the
stately, quasi-religious hymn Rebecca.
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