Saturday, March 29, 2008

You.May.Die.In.The.Desert /Gifts From Enola - Harmonic Motion Volume 1

Artist: You.May.Die.In.The.Desert /Gifts From Enola
Album: Harmonic Motion Volume 1
Label: Differential Records
Year: 2008

01. The Sound Of Titans
02. In Case I Should Die...
03. Mitchell vs. Rowesdower
04. Seagulls = Sea Eagles
05. Let's Have Sarcasm For Breakfast
06. The Sun's Condolences
07. Still Walks The Streets
08. 10/7
09. The Vision Of Ruby Turpin
10. Dusk Swallowed Dawn

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Gifts from Enola’s Loyal Eyes Betrayed the Mind and You.May.Die.In.The.Desert’s Bears in the Yukon were each promising efforts, but in vastly different ways.Loyal Eyes offered dense layers of near-heavy metal, adding occasional inflections of jazz and progressive rock. Each track was distinguished by a single, easily-identifiable element or passage: the ascending scale in “Early Morning Ambulance,” the stutter-stops of “Behind Curtains Closing,” the doom-metal sledge driven through “Miles of White.” But while each track was solid, none was transcendent; all too frequently, the non-dominant guitar was buried in the mix. Bears, on the other hand, might not have worked as well as a whole, but it offered one absolutely killer cut: the ever-morphing title track, replete with memorable riffs and a welcome lack of varnish that gave it the appeal of a live take rather than that of a clinical studio rendition. “Can I Get Some Steel in My Monitor” would have been the highlight of any other album, but in this context it could only serve as bridesmaid.
Two years later, we find the bands teaming up to face the dreaded sophomore slump (the GFE lads took a unique approach to this superstitious matter, releasing their last album as college freshmen and this one as juniors). All too often, we have seen the anticipation of a second effort quickly dissipate like the foam of a forgotten cappuccino. In this case, the odds were stacked against both bands making progress, which makes the double-achievement of Harmonic Motion Volume 1 all the more remarkable.
You.May.Die.In.The.Desert is the first to bat, and they begin with an absolute blinder of a cut, the nearly twelve-minute “The Sound of Titans.” In Greek mythology, titans were gigantic, godlike creatures who controlled the forces of nature; in this piece, the listener can imagine them again walking the earth, striding over redwoods and leaving ponds in their footprints. The song begins innocently enough, with polite electronics laying down a carpet for the guitars to tread on. The drums don’t make their appearance for two minutes, and when they enter, they do so with gentle confidence. Guitar and bass begin a tentative interplay, and once their relationship is solidified, the drums begin to wreak havoc in the background. A calming interlude momentarily silences the percussion, and a host of new themes are introduced. At this point, the listener is already wondering, what happened to YMDITD? Perhaps the Japanese tour had an impact on the young band’s psyche, because the level of confidence displayed here is astounding. At 6:31, the bass takes the lead, then slowly retreats, apologetic, only to return a short while later. Each time the bass is spotlighted, we can better appreciate its contribution to the mix. The construction of this piece is akin to what we might expect in the classical realm, but the interplay is more like that found in jazz. With their first song, YMDITD have surpassed every track on Bears of the Yukon.
“In Case I Should Die” should win over any skeptics who have up to this point considered the perfect 3-minute post-rock tune to be unattainable. The piece begins with drum rolls and takes only twelve seconds to introduce a triumphant riff which one might normally expect to appear after twelve minutes. This riff gives way, in turn, to a host of other, equally appealing passages, which rotate approximately every 32 bars. All of this leads me to ask: could a post-rock song ever become a crossover hit? If so, this could be the template for the genre’s movement into the mainstream.
The remaining three tracks clock in at approximately 5 minutes apiece. “Mitchell vs. Rowedower” gets its name and sense of fun from Mystery Science Theatre. A mid-piece siesta is the track’s defining moment. This track is not as impressive as the opening pair, if only because its riffs paled in comparison to those on surrounding songs. The next track, “Seagulls = Sea Eagles,” is the most overtly accessible of the YMDITD tracks. This piece features a repeating guitar chorus which is first commented upon, then taken up by the bass. Just when the track seems to be falling into predictability, a toy xylophone enters the mix, politely exiting after only 30 seconds so that some heavy bass tones may drop. Bizarrely, this not only works, but makes the track. A brief drum solo draws the piece to a pleasingly percussive end. The quick tempo continues with YMDITD’s closing track, “Let’s Have Sarcasm for Breakfast.” Again, the central themes are introduced upfront, and this time the group decides to ditch the loud-quiet-loud format for a multiple-metered piece that trots from beginning to end at constant timbre. While tracks two through five never quite match the ferocity of the opener, they don’t have to; the band has already proven itself.
This leaves Gifts from Enola to take the helm, and opener “The Sun’s Condolences” lays down the gauntlet. The track is altogether more accomplished than anything on Loyal Eyes - the haze of feedback is thick, and the riffs are huge enough to rock a stadium. Midway through the piece, we are treated to a cacophony of hurricane drums and reverberating guitars, which persists until the final bars. This savage, propulsive cut is the finest piece GFE has recorded to date.
“Still Walks the Streets” follows with a 54-second percussive introduction that suddenly topples into a mass of swirling guitars and electronics - all of which disappears just as suddenly after only a minute. A forlorn guitar takes the reins, which holds off the sounds of random conversation until the other instruments come to its rescue. This is an extremely dramatic piece, one that would work well on a movie trailer. The two-minute “10/7” glides us gently into “The Vision of Ruby Turpin” on a wash of synthesized strings, but might just as easily have been incorporated into the latter piece or left out altogether. “Ruby” offers a clever synthesis of electronic stereo effects and traditional rock instrumentation, and should sound amazing on a quality headset; but because of its brevity, it serves as a mere appetizer for the album’s closer, “Dusk Swallowed Dawn.”
GFE’s final contribution begins with a solo guitar passage vaguely reminiscent of “Stairway to Heaven.” Soon afterwards, a Spanish guitar enters the picture, proving that GFE are still young enough to learn new tricks. At 2:12 a swiftly-rising electronic rush propels the piece forward into the more traditional post-rock section, which ebbs back into solo guitar, threatens to end at the four-minute mark, then confidently builds once again in volume and momentum, peaking at the six-minute mark, momentarily dipping, then ending in an all-out assault.
Harmonic Motion Volume 1 is an album of many surprises, all of them good. Both bands have grown by leaps and bounds since 2006, so much so that their current work is at times unrecognizable when compared to their former work. The two bands remain distinctive, and yet still make sense together. Most importantly, this album is stuffed with highlights and sounds great straight through. While many veteran acts have disappointed in recent months with lackluster efforts, it is extremely encouraging to see two young acts delivering on their initial promise. Congratulations to both groups on a phenomenal release. -by Richard Allen (

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You.May.Die.In.The.Desert / Gifts From Enola
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