Friday, November 8, 2013

Album Review: Near Grey's The Herschel Central Peak

It isn't ''easy listening'' per se, as it clearly demands some attention span to grasp the subtleties of their 10-minute songs, but Near Grey's The Herschel Central Peak won't blow your brain apart either. Unless you listen with your headphones on too loudly.

As far as instrumentals go, this is closer to the atmospheric leanings of Godspeed You! Black Emperor (albeit a tad heavier and sludgier, but in the same vein of explorations of sonic landscapes that go from calm to heavy swiftly yet subtly) than British shoegazers that so many were fond of a decade ago.

Guitarist/synth expert Kevin Bartczak has been experimenting with post-rock and heavier music for a decade now through numerous projects (Raw Madonna and USA Out Of Vietnam to name a couple of collective efforts, but also quite an extensive solo library as well as more conventional releases like the terrific Natalie Portland), and he seems to have found something with this particular band that he didn't have earlier: boundaries that lead to substance.

It's not art for art's sake, it's not a vanity project, it's music. Really good music.

The first piece, Sauropod, numbs your mind with the repetition of just one dark chord, then takes you away with a lighter side in the middle, enabling your senses to take flight, as if reflecting safely from above the wreckage of a war-torn village, spirit-like. Or something.

Then comes Northfield, which sounds like the aftermath of the previous scene. Slow-paced, filled with sadness and melancholy, with a touch of anger and resignation - just enough to prop you back up. The drumming in this one is particularly good, both at first in the subdued part, and in the end as well, when the emotions rise.

Cannulated starts exactly where Northfield ends, mid-crescendo, before cooling off quickly and revealing the album's best melodies... only to increase in intensity with more convincing drum work. For this song in particular, however, I would have liked the drums to display a lower frequency/pitch and perhaps be a tad louder in the mix starting from the half-way mark, as they are clearly driving the song, but having them so far behind in the mix creates a bit of a sense of dead air floating in the middle of all the instruments.

Regina closes off the album, and begins by sounding like an old black-and-white photo feels: desolate, sad, decrepit, like all of its descendants are long dead. It's also the one song that is best described by the band's self-inflicted ''metal'' categorization, seeing as from the middle of the song onwards, it sounds pretty darn satanic. It's also pretty energetic and invigorating, like the last song of a set, be it pre-encore or during it.

All in all, it's a pretty satisfying record that I'd rate a solid 7.5/10.

The only negative thing I found - particularly in the third track - was a less-than-optimal production, whose overall grade is fine (7/10) but in that particular song, closer to 6/10.

You can purchase it here, for a mere $5.

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