Saturday, 28 February 2009

Searing Mash. Grand Opuses. Orchestral? The Rest.

The occasional borderline-tweeness of Belle & Sebastian.

The crooning-through-an-anguished-yet-twistedly-sardonic-grin tones of Guillemots' Fyfe 'Dangerfield'.

The grandiose sweep of Arcade Fire (and accompanying tendency to sweep grandiosely back and forth over the same (by now very well-swept) harmonic territory).

The softer-edged, crowd-friendly aspects of Wolf Parade/Sunset Rubdown.

The reverb-saturated woo-oooo-oooooing of Sigur Ros ...

... The Rest.

This is a band who have spent 'a laborious, fulfilling year and a half' writing and recording Everyone All At Once, an album due for release 'this April', according to the rather nice bulk email that plopped sonorously into Heavy Soil's inbox, some weeks ago.

I thought I'd write about this one, because it distinguished itself by virtue of not being chronically let down by a shoddy vocalist. By virtue of being an album to the whole of which I actually found myself able to listen to without losing patience by track 2.

For this fact – along with their apparent general competence and their pleasant mode of mass-correspondence – I commend The Rest. This is clearly a band composed of musicians with some talent, the ability to play and sing in tune (so much rarer than it should be, this one), and the inclination to construct arrangements that are dynamic, organic and expansive.

Heavy Soil writes these words. But Heavy Soil's withered heart is not in them. Because for all that there is to commend (yes, to commend – that most rock'n'roll of verbs) about Everyone All At Once, Heavy Soil cannot find anything to love. Nothing by which to be excited. Nothing that makes aforesaid withered heart beat faster.

Sure, there are some grand opuses. Some rather nice string samples. Some stirring crescendos. There's dynamic contrast, musical confidence and competence, a solid ensemble feel.

But there's so much slow-progressing harmony, one-chord-to-a-bar ... So much mid-tempo extemporation ... So much overdubbing ... So much wall-of-sound reverb.

Commonly, people refer to these big, Arcade-Firey arrangements as 'orchestral'. This is one of the things that pisses the shit (yes, pisses the shit. Got that image?) out of Heavy Soil.

Because 'orchestral' is Beethoven; 'orchestral' is Stravinsky; 'orchestral' is Verdi. 'Orchestral' implies a complex, intricately-interwoven web of instrumental lines, masterful contrasts of texture. 'Orchestral' conjures elaborate fugues, in which themes are played off against one another, sudden changes of pace, whereby a single root chord might be suspended for 32 bars, before a breathtaking flurry of harmonic movement, key-changes and counterpoint, all crammed into the following 8. It's about a hell of a lot more than just playing the same chord/melody in unison on as many instruments/gutar sounds as possible.

In writing this, I feel churlish. I review virtually none of the submissions I receive from bands. A hell of a lot of bands do 'orchestral' much worse than this. Indeed, this album from The Rest is about the best thing I've received unsolicited, whilst writing this blog. But I want it to be better. Chaps, you're up against Arcade Fire. They got there first. Now, I'm no Arcade Fire devotee. But when they were first doing this stuff, it was (by mainstream indie standards) reasonably fresh. Now, it's old. You have to do something damn good and damn interesting within this subgenre if you want to stand out.

And, at the moment, you aren't. I'd love it if you were. Really, I would. But you aren't.

I wish this band well. But I wish they would sometimes change chord several times in one bar. I wish they would occasionally change key as dramatically as they build to a searing mash (y'know ... mash can be pretty fucking searing. The trick is to use near-boiling milk and make sure you don't leave the potatoes to drain too long ... Oh, Christ, never mind) of guitar overdubs. I wish the not inconsiderable talents of their vocalist were more often matched by musical ideas that we haven't heard many times before.

(And I wish they'd stop singing 'whoa-a-oh-oh', too. Because that shit annoys me.)

Anyhow. Have a listen. See what you think. I reckon a lot of people might like this. But, boy, I've sold it to you well, haven't I?

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