Thursday, March 17, 2011

98 The Hard Way: EPs, Day 16

Modest Mouse and 764-HERO: Whenever You See Fit (Up/Suicide Squeeze)
Collaboration is all about filling in the gaps. Think about any group project you've ever been a part of: each individual brings something different to the table, and if you've got a good group the things that each person brings fill in the things that others in the group lack. So why is it that most musical collaborations don't take full advantage of this phenomenon. Most of the time you wind up with either two bands that are so similar that in the end they just wind up basically doubling each other, or two artists who only really engage in collaborating at one level or another as opposed to fully integrating into a new band as it were. Perhaps the disappointment I have with collaborations rarely working ideally is what makes me so enamored by "Whenever You See Fit," but that's still only part of it - even without the more collaboration-y flourishes there's a great composition at the song's heart that even a straight run through would reveal.

There are two ways that the collaboration aspect elevates the song though . Most importantly, there's the way that each of the 6 members involved here fill in the gaps that they perceive, mainly because it's like they were already tailor made for the purpose they wind up serving in the final song. Both bands have their strengths and their weaknesses when compared to each other - yes, I'm saying that Modest Mouse at their peak had weaknesses, deal with it fanboys - but they're much more complimentary in that sense than I might have imagined. Isaac Brock may have a unique style of guitar playing and an equally unique and expressive vocal style, but both can come off as overly unhinged and without context. John Atkins' guitar and vocal styles aren't unique or particularly noteworthy, but he's got much more of a keen melodic edge than Brock. Polly Johnson is a competent time-keeper who goes about her duties with minimal flourish - think Meg White if she could use the whole kit consistently - while Jeremiah Green is occasionally so much about the flourishes that the beat is only ever implied (note: this is one of his best assets in my eyes, but for the sake of this discussion let's pretend it's not.) Both Eric Judy and James Bertram are great bassists, but the bands they spend their time with use them in such different ways that when they come together it results in a much more complete - and huge sounding - bass presence. That's the key word for the way that the two bands work together here: complete. They complete the picture that has gaps of varying sizes when they only have their part.

The other way that the collaboration benefits the end result is that the sound is much, much bigger than either band on its own. It's not just the doubled instruments, though that does help a lot, but there's a sense of epicness to the song that I don't think 764-HERO or Modest Mouse ever achieved on their own. That's certainly saying a lot w/r/t MM since they had an epic streak of their own to contend with, but at this point that streak resulted in much more fractured wholes that the one on display here. I think of this as what a song like "Trucker's Atlas" wanted to be but didn't quite get to: a cohesive, 14 and a half minute piece that feels like it could go on for at least five more minutes without wearing out its welcome. Just listen to how smoothly the song moves from each part to the next, the way that the false ending and re emergence flows so logically...these are moves that so many post-rock bands fail miserably to realize yet here we have a one-off collaboration between two indie rock bands that gets them almost effortlessly on the first go round. That's the reason I love this song so much in a nutshell; it gets everything right without sounding like it worked to get there. Effortless genius is hard to pull off convincingly, so I can't help but reward it when it happens.

I'm not mentioning the remixes in too much detail because that's not the point here. sure in the scope of the complete release they should be talked about but as far as I'm concerned they're not a detriment or an asset. If anything they highlight the reasons that he original works so well as its own entity by isolating and amplifying certain aspects of it on their own, so they can't really ruin the release the way that some people would claim they do. They give context to the preceding 14 and a half minutes, and that's a valuable thing. [9.3/10]
Burning Witch: Rift.Canyon.Dreams (Merciless)
It makes a lot of sense that the compilation collecting this and the Towers 12" was one of the first releases from Southern Lord Records. You can pretty much hear the beginnings of most of their flagship acts in Burning Witch, though like many beginnings the steps are a bit unsure. The ideas are much better realised here than on Towers, mostly because these ideas plant the seeds from which Khanate would grow a few years later as opposed to just sounding likea more fully realized version of O'Malley's previous band Thorr's Hammer. The Khanate similarities come down mostly to the vocals, and while Edgy 59 (why would anyone refer to themselves by that name?) is a long way from Alan Dubin's unique yelping he goes for that same uncomfortable place, making the vocals as ugly as he can to compliment the heavy, bludgeoning backdrop. It's definitely a step in the right direction for all involved though, O'Malley's gradually getting more varied in his guitar playing - check out the spacey interlude from "Stillborn" - and while the people he's surrounded with here aren't as great as the one's he'd find for his next few projects they fit with the more Sabbath-y aesthetic on display here quite well. [8.1/10]

Download link and image courtesy of Angry Chairs Redux.
Dirty Three: Sharks (Anchor and Hope)
The comedown from Horse Stories still retains enough of the scope and aggression that makes it my favorite Dirty Three release. Given that of the four tracks here only one is truly 'new' material - the stately "Two Am" - it's debatable whether it should be thrown in the 'odds n sods' compilation bin or not, but the material here is definitely worth looking into if you're a fan of the band. Specifically, the demo of "Hope" here is close to usurping the final version in my affections, if only for the uniformly squeaky violin line finally coming into focus in the final few runthroughs, and the live version of "Running Scared" with Nick Cave is exactly as great as it sounds like it would be on paper. "Two Am" and "Obvious Is Obvious," rescued from their split with Low from the previous year, are quality side-takes from this era too, not quite in the same mold as Horse Stories but a ways away from the calming landscapes of Ocean Songs yet. So yeah, stopgap measure or not it's a nice little release to have around. [8.2/10]

Saturnus: For the Loveless Lonely Nights (Euphonius)
This barely qualifies as metal if you ask me. I'm not saying that as a good thing or a bad thing, just an observation. I mean, sure, there's a bit of death growling on "Starres," but outside of that the new material on here reminds me more of a slightly doomier, not blessed by female vocals version of any number of Projekt Records artists from this time frame than any even borderline metal artist. Maybe that's for the best though, I have yet to hear the band's debut album, but the live tracks from it on here don't get me as excited to explore it upon re-listen as they did initially. They're essentially second tier My Dying Bride tunes, not bad bad but certainly not as intriguing as the new material here. Most intriguing is closer "Consecration," which may feel like a one-off experiment moreso than a definitive change of direction, but the results show much more potential within the band than their earlier material might have hinted at. Outside of that, "Starres" uses textbook metal growls to punctuate a nice, moody and gothic tune quite effectively, and both "For Your Demons" and "Thou Art Free" forego traditional vocals for straight up recitation over similar backdrops. It's tangentially metal-ish, but whether you like it or not might have more to do with how you feel about Lycia et al than how you feel about My Dying Bride. [7.5/10]

Tarentel: Tarentel (Temporary Residence)
What would happen if post rock bands never quite got to the 'rock' part of the equation? The more I listen to Tarentel's early material, the more I think that that was their primary mission statement: Take this whole post-rock thing that's developing and rob it of its logical endpoint. This is an EP that's all about holding back, never letting the pieces hit their climax even when that seems to be all that's left for them to do. Yet for all the implications that that might raise about the music, it never feels like a tease. The pieces are designed from the get go to be wholly satisfying as pure build up, developing a full-blown hypnotic quality in only a few minutes that any drastic change in volume would only mess up. Essentially, the band are subverting the expectations of their presumed genre, edging closer to Labradford's immersive ambient rock than to something like Mogwai. The sparseness and subtlety are its greatest assets, whether they explore them meditatively as on the fist track or in a more upbeat manner as on the second track. The highest compliment that can be paid to this one is that the 30 or so minutes it takes to listen to it go by much more quickly than I ever expect. [8.5/10]

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