No Hits 11.28.05
"The Velvet Cell" is a great single--probably one of the catchiest, most powerful of the year. But it sure feels like an accident. Before you assume that's a dis, lemme explain. Until Bristol, England-based Gravenhurst's latest album Fires in Distant Buildings (US, UK), the band was better known for its sprawling pastoral folk rock, which it occasionally intertwined with shoegazy noise. And the band was better known as one guy, songwriter Nick Talbot. Talbot's since picked up a few colleagues, including crack drummer Dave Collingwood (Azalea City Penis Club), and since moved from a morbid fascination with murder ballads to . . . ok, so he's still consumed with tales of tragic death. Which is one of the other odd things about Velvet Cell. Its insistent beats, beefy power chords and choirboy-pretty vocals don't quite prepare you for this:
To understand the killer
I must become the killer.
And I don't need this violence anymore
But now I've tasted hatred I want more.
And did I mention the song's coda? Just when you think you've heard a perfect three-minute pop gem, Gravenhurst reminds you that as capable as they are of crafting hooks, they're also making art. The song's long post-rocker winddown irked me the first listen or two, but eventually took on a kind of logic. Then there's the fact that Velvet Cell is the most "upbeat" track on its album (there's also a reprise of the tune that's sufficiently interesting on its own merits--it doesn't actually feel like gratuitous filler).
But even if the song is something of an anomaly and you download the above, Fires is worth buying for its many other treasures. Songs like "Animals" and "Cities Beneath the Sea" are achingly beautiful, if not distressingly melancholic. Which is to say, don't listen to this album if you're already depressed--I can't be held responsible for the result--but if you're in a good place, by all means wallow in misery just a little.
From Flashlight Seasons (US, UK):
Hopechapel Hill - Gravenhurst
From Black Holes in the Sand (US, UK):
Still Water - Gravenhurst
And since we're already exploring Bristol's musical landscape, I should mention SJ Esau. Essentially the project of one Sam Wisternoff, the SJ Esau output is a highly original melange of sound experiments, cacophony, chaos and oh yeah, pretty great little tunes. Wisternoff has a long list of influences on his Web site. Often, these kinds of lists come off as a combination of obvious admissions of guilt and tragically wishful thinking. But in his case, I think you can work through Wisternoff's songs and hear a lot of these artists . . . and not in a bad, pilfering kind of way. When's the last time you heard the likes of Low, Captain Beefheart, Sonic Youth, Movietone, Silver Jews and Husker Du synthesized into something listenable, even really good. That's what I thought.
Cat Track - SJ Esau
Wears the Control - SJ Esau
Note - SJ Esau
Epiphany Coming Through the Wall - SJ Esau