Do Make Say Think
Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
or far too long, Canada’s wall of musical shame has been embarrassingly full but recent years have witnessed a redemption of sorts with the emergence of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, MUTEK, Suction Records’ Solvent and Lowfish, Deadbeat, Akufen and the Revolver label. Prepare to add to that list the Toronto-based group Do Make Say Think whose presence has generally been overshadowed by its revered label-mate Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Based upon the aural evidence of Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, that injustice will be corrected posthaste, as it’s the band’s most powerful recording to date. It’s a noticeable change from & Yet & Yet, last year’s accomplished set, yet the personnel—Charles Spearin (bass, trumpet), Justin Small (guitar) James Payment (drums), Ohad Benchetrit (guitar, horns, keyboards), drummer Dave Mitchell—is the same on both, although the new recording finds the band augmented by string and horn players. Ranging from wistful moods to seething guitar crescendos, the nine instrumental tracks are more passionate and sonically extreme than ever before. In the past, the group’s compositions have stayed within a controlled mid-range of tempo and volume but, on Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, the group’s sound often veers closely to Godspeed’s, as Do Make Say Think exploits similarly dramatic extremes of rising and falling, tension and release. The opening ‘Fredericia’ is a case in point, as it moves through six stages in nine minutes. It begins delicately with gently interweaving guitars sounding a stately hymnal theme which soon are joined by an intricate and polyrhythmic drum pattern. The music turns more aggressive, gradually building in intensity, until it rises to a towering level of thrash. This episode abruptly ends, leaving a becalmed interlude which in turn grows in intensity and then explodes even more ferociously before settling into a raucous coda. The other epic, the 10-minute ‘Outer Inner & Secret,’ at first adheres to the classic style of & Yet & Yet: medium tempo, with gentle intertwining guitar melodies unfurling over a propulsive beat. It too explodes at the 5-minute mark before quickly dropping back to a midrange volume. Mournful, stately introspective melodies emerge before the guitars attack again accompanied by a fusillade of martial drums, at which point a majestic melody rains down at full volume. It’s a massive sound that gradually collapses into a mournful, dirge-like statement at the end. Both pieces, in short, are exhausting and incredible rides.
Other tracks build to dramatic, if not epic, levels. The melancholy guitar theme on ‘Auberge le Mouton Noir’ evolves into a funky interlocking groove and raunchy guitar theme before changing to a propulsive double-time beat. A jazzier side of the band emerges in ‘Ontario Plates’ with the drummer doing his best Ed Blackwell impression while saxes flutter about the main theme. A guitar states a hymn-like melody before the track explodes into a blasting re-statement of the theme and then builds to a cacophonous close. The dark, heavy rhythms on ‘Horns of a Rabbit’ gradually transform into a thrashing episode with a searing violin struggling to be heard above dense layers of bass, drums, and guitars. Less somber is the jubilant closer ‘Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!’ which begins with a delicate acoustic guitar and horns but gradually turns into a mesmerizing, dreamy track punctuated by radiant glissandos of Hawaiian steel guitars and electronics. Not all of the compositions are so intense. The brief ‘War On Want’ features strings whose sawing suggests Philip Glass’s style, and ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ is a short interlude of waves and percussive clatter (with no apparent connection to the infamous Steve Reich composition of the same name).
Attempts to encapsulate the recording in some simplistic manner fail. Calling it ‘post-rock’ casts the group’s music in far too delimiting and restrictive a light. Focusing on the ‘hymn’ dimension propagated by the title is not inaccurate, given the hymnal quality of many melodic themes (such as the dirge-like ‘107 Reasons Why’), but it ignores the equally prevalent moods of celebration and joy. And, given that the singular listing of the band members’ names appears inside, one might focus on the band’s self-effacing persona, but doing so would ignore the fact that the band’s inspired music—fierce, passionate, at times raw and ferocious—is anything but. It’s a strong and dynamic step forward for the group and deserves to bring them a level of recognition commonly accorded their more famous Montréal label-mates.
Reviewed by: Ron Schepper
Reviewed on: 2003-10-07