because sometimes you can't turn the volume knob down

Saturday, April 12, 2008

don't forget the volume pedals

Here's a piece I wrote for a portfolio a few months ago. It could definitely be expanded tenfold but hey, I threw it together last minute. Enjoy.

The Earth Is Not A Cold Death Place opens up with a single guitar note. First the attack and then the slow, echoing decay, a heartbeat on a VCU meter. That single note grows, getting faster and growing more percussive. A soft melody dances over this racing heartbeat, a heartbeat racing so fast, it turns into a constant stream of sound. Now, I can hear the palpitations of a second heartbeat, strong and steady, a kick drum resounding, guttural. As the sonic mass crescendos, we can now hear the pulse of the heartbeat switches to snare drum strokes.

Post rock is characterized by swelling dynamics, the wordless capability to build and create emotion and depth with “rock instruments”—bass, drums and guitar. The first track, “First Breath From A Coma”, outlines the events that precede someone gaining lucidity, clarity, either figurative or literal. They don’t have strings at their disposal to set the scene of a hospital room. They don’t have timpani or flutes or horns. They have brash, crude, electronic instruments, usually utilized to get laid or exert teenage angst. The only tool they have to bridge the gap from gyrating garage rock to fluid, orchestrated music is a volume pedal.

With a track list similar to an EP’s, The Earth spans almost an hour, each of the five songs displaying a gamut of emotions. The rubato tempo and dynamics emote everything from exuberance to desolation to wonder. Three guitars intertwine throughout, taking turn playing melody, rhythm or simple repeating the same phrase or note again and again. With no singer, no front man, the band remains a truly collaborative effort, producing seamless sonic walls for songs, ebbing and swelling with every soaring climax and every subtle silence.

An echoing, otherworldly, guitar opens up on the second track, “Six Days At the Bottom of the Ocean”, with a repeated flanging melody. The slight delay on all of the guitar parts gives a sense of space, as if they recorded the song in a large hall or in a subterranean cave. At the 3-minute mark, there’s a slight pause, as if they all took a communal deep breath before a percussive, arrhythmic pulse jumps in on the snare drum.

Compared to the past two albums, The Earth reflects a far more optimistic and subtle approach. Their first album, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever, relied more on percussion to drive the songs along, standing out as its own entity rather than the democratic role it played in The Earth, with just its sparse presence and occasional flourish. Those Who Tell The Truth contains the only track with vocals, a monologue from The Thin Red Line questioning the origin of evil. The track titles reveal more about the band’s headspace than anything else—“Have You Passed Through This Night?”, “With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept” and “The Moon is Down”.

How Strange, Innocence, their sophomore album, finds them discovering an understated, refined sound. Gone is the need to overshoot the mark with garish drums and spastic guitar parts. They introduce their collection of effects pedals and even tone it down with an acoustic guitar at times. Still, the guitar parts can feel cluttered with sonic toes being stepped on, as if the boys just needed a few more band meetings. There are moments of brilliance, if fleeting, to make up for the confusions.

The culmination of all the lessons learned resulted in The Earth. Fluid, subtle and controlled, the tension builds organically in each song, rising and falling of its own accord. The band finally find solidarity in their composition, feeling like the album was created by one mind, with no more power struggles of who can crank it up to 11. Explosions In The Sky finally found their natural sound with The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place.

No comments: