Sunday, October 11, 2009

#83. Shining - Grindstone (Rune Grammafon, 2007)

Rune Grammafon may not have provided any additional releases for this list, but I wouldn't hesitate to call it the most interesting record label of the decade. Looking at the throngs of stuff that just missed the list from is back catalog - most of Supersilent's releases, moHa!'s Raus Aus Stravager, the last Motorpsycho album, White Birch's Come Up for Air, a few Alog albums - it's easy to write it off as an almost great collective, but chances are that when I revisit this list a few years down the line it's more likely than not that a few of those will make the jump into the main list. This highlights a big problem with the placeholder list I'm constructing here: while plenty of these albums are bound to continue on to the proper one, whenever I find the time to get that done, it also leads to the ignoring of plenty of worthy releases that I haven't had as much time to revisit as I'd like to. That's not to say that Grindstone won't still come out on top of the pile for the label, but I really wish I'd had the time to maybe add in discussion of a couple more RG releases to give a more complete picture of the label's breadth and overall high quality.

The flipside to this argument would be that Grindstone in and of itself represents a fairly complete cross section of what Rune Grammafon was all about since its inception in the late 90s. Sure there's no full on free-jazz epics a la Supersilent or moody post-rock in the White Birch vein, but the quartet that Shining was pared down to for its recording (losing second bassist Aslak Hartberg and pianist Morten Qvenlid) certainly don't take it upon themselves to limit their sonic scope over the 10 proper tracks here. There's nods to jazz fusion, all out free jazz, bombastic post-rock, metal, industrial, new age piano music, plenty of which can occur over a single track, all held together by some incredibly tight playing. The arrangements and composition of even the most seemingly improvised sections serves to highlight just how great of a unit Shining have become over time, replacing the occasional meander of their 2005 breakout In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster with a much more focused attack. Even in the midle part of the labum where the tracks feel more like rough sketches than actual songs it never feels indulgent or pointless

The album is quite neatly divided into thirds by a pair of identically named interludes, and each of the sections is somewhat cohesive but not to the point of monotony. The first three tracks represent pretty much a distillation of all the high points of In the Kingdom into 13 incredibly focused and hard-hitting minutes. It's the most explicitly singular section, all three cuts striking me as examples of what jazz fusion would sound like if played with the ferocity of a metal band, and would be the most satisfying stretch of the album if there wasn't "Psalm" coming up later. "Wintereisse" especially strikes the perfect balance of ferocity and complexity, though all three tracks are worthy of praise. The middle section, as I intimated earlier, feels a bit less developed than the book-ending sections, but the ideas that are put forward are at least interesting. "The Red Room" explicitly refers back to Kingdom highlight "REDRUM" but it's an excellent showcase of the band's composition and playing skills as bassist Morten Strøm plays off-signature while an army of saxophones make runs up the scale and the song never falls apart, and "ASA NISI MASA" sounds closer to a Battles out-take than anything else on the album. It constitutes a bit of breather before the last section, and one that's needed.

Basically, if the band's next album is a continuation of the last four tracks of Grindstone 2010 might have it's album of the year before its half over. It's the band pushing itself into newer realms, dropping the explicit ferocity of their recent output for sinister, expansive post-rock that still maintains plenty of the band's hallmarks. "Psalm" especially exemplifies the direction I want Blackjazz to embrace - it basically sounds like the soundtrack to the most epic movie trailer of all time, and not in the cheesy John Williams sense of epic. If anything it sounds like an outtake from Clint Mansell's score for The Fountain, completely different sound, sure, but the feel is right in line with that movie's emotional score. Even if the next few tracks aren't on that level it's forgiven because really, nothing released in 2007 was on that level, and given that especially closer "Fight Dusk with Dawn" comes close to the same level of emotional resonance it's not like I can call the final stretch after "Psalm" all that disappointing.

Coming up next: I go full on pop-tarded for a spell.

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