Monday, 29 December 2008

2008: Gregor Samsa - Rest

To put this record in context, Gregor Samsa started out as a band that took a heavy influence from moody, snail-paced indie-rockers Low and combined it with a love for orchestral post-rock in the vein of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The product was something quite simple in its build-build-climax approach, even possibly quite generic, but nevertheless something startlingly emotional and affecting. In fact, their previous full-length 55:12 was quite a special record for me in that it soundtracked a few months when I was in a very vulnerable place emotionally, and so songs like 'Makeshift Shelters' and 'Lessening' still hold great significance for me in the associations they bring up when i hear them.

It came as a pleasant surprise to me earlier on this year when I read a newspost saying that Toby Driver and Mia Matsumiya of Kayo Dot, among other musicians that I admire, would be making appearances on Gregor Samsa's new outing, Rest. And, from the moment that I heard the opening track 'The Adolescent', it was evident to me that here was a new, more mature and more restrained version of the band. Gone are the sweeping string crescendos and obvious post-rock buildups, replaced by a careful, controlled sense of composition that sounds not far off from the tendencies of chamber classical music. The instrumentation is carefully chosen: 'The Adolescent' opens with a glockenspiel intro, soon accompanied by a chiming piano and then Toby Driver's delicate woodwind arrangements. Keyboards then enter, and the band's gorgeous vocal harmonies provide the icing on the cake and turn it into something really quite beautiful. As is evident here and throughout the rest of the album, the band are still using the crescendo as one of their main tools, but this time around it's a lot more subtle and clever, using minimalist repetition and subtle progression to great effect instead of the bigger post-rock guns that used to be in their arsenal. Where guitars used to be their weapon of choice, pianos now provide the anchor for most of the songs on Rest, a decision that is quite refreshing in a genre that has somewhat exhausted the possibilities of what you can do with a guitar and a delay pedal. This minimalistic tendency is particularly evident on centrepiece 'Jeroen Van Aken'. The first half is, perhaps, the section on Rest the most reminiscent of previous releases by Gregor Samsa - slow, moody, and utterly heartwrenching balladry. This leads onto an even more hushed but just as devastating second half that works through the repetition and slight change of the same line, culminating on the line "All things come and go/but we won't, no we won't, break". It's not immediately obvious stuff, but with close listening, it's so affecting.

My personal favourite on the album is the beautiful but bleak 'Pseudonyms'. Probably the moodiest piece on the album, it is a reflection on, among other things, futility and loneliness. The song progresses slowly but towards the end climaxes in a lovely and understated crescendo where gorgeous clarinet lines are played over shimmering pianos. Ambience is also used elsewhere in the album - as a segue between songs, or, in the case of 'Company', a full blown excursion into Stars of The Lid-esque guitar ambience territory. Rest is, indeed, a very varied album instrumentally and benefits hugely from it. But, above that, its careful restraint means that not everything is immediately apparent, something that affects the replay value as the album really must be listened quite closely to in order for its real beauty to show itself. For those who are fans of post-rock, classical music, moody indie-rock or just about anything you could describe with the word 'lovely', Rest is highly recommended from me as one of the most beautiful and heartmelting albums of 2008.

Murderous art has its grips on me - can't wrap myself around internally. I can't seem to put my name on anything. Our innocence yields to American dreams. Our innocence yields to pathetic conceit. Our innocence yields when our pocket's empty. The softest hearts break when the deed is done. I'll patiently wait for new days to come, then I'll wake and rise to write another song. Our innocence yields when we do it alone. The exodus begins now. I'll travel 'round and find you once more. You're reaching out less than before, but I know you're there.
-Gregor Samsa; Pseudonyms

Gregor Samsa - Rest

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1 comment:

unfire said...

I adore the way that, even with a rethought approach, the tone of this album sits very nicely alongside 55:12.

My favourite post-rock albums are usually ones that grip me first without my noticing, attracting my attention mid-piece, not just by being loud. The tracks on this album are paced absolutely perfectly.

Maybe this is why the mid-point in First Mile, Last Mile is so devastating, when it maybe wouldn't stand out on a less measured album.