Pelican / Red Sparowes
The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw / At the Soundless Dawn
B+ / B+
elican and Red Sparowes have each recently released albums of wordless, at times heavy music (don’t be simplistic and call it “instrumental metal”—you’d be not just lazy but wrong in doing so). Both bands are on indie labels, and both have clearly listened to their Slint records. That’s roughly where their similarities stop.
You might expect Red Sparowes to deliver a bruising metal attack on their new album At the Soundless Dawn, considering the band is made up of members from Isis and Neurosis (and the album’s released on Neurosis’ label Neurot Recordings). You’d be dead wrong, however; this is a 180—or at least a 90—from Neurosis, coming off more akin to My Bloody Valentine and even Ride. Heavy doses of heavily atmospheric keyboards accent and augment the guitars and bass, while occasionally, the guitars actually chime and shine (track 3 could nearly be a Modest Mouse instrumental!). Sonic Youth is clearly an influence as well; track 1 (the album’s songs are untitled) owes a doubt to the textures of Evol and Sister without sounding anything like them.
The bass riff that launches track 2 is almost shockingly catchy, as At the Soundless Dawn is not an album on which you expect to find hummable songs. The guitar-bass-drums interplay might be at its finest on this track, which near the 2:30 mark strips down to acoustics, sounding for a moment like it’s about to become Slint’s “Good Morning Captain.” A minute and a half later, everything comes crashing back in, hard, nearly striking you down with its muscle, before the bass riff returns. And then, about six minutes into the song, ambient sound, including crickets, takes over to form the backbone of the track, setting a table for some quietly ragged guitar.
Chicago quartet Pelican take their cues from different sources on their sophomore album The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (hands down the best album title of 2005). Opener “Last Day of Winter” smells of fellow Chicagoan Steve Albini, mostly notably his current power trio Shellac, though echoes exist of Rapeman as well. They’ve got a somewhat more prog bent to them than Red Sparowes, and a more wide-open sound: the first minute of “Autumn Into Summer” evokes the barren American prairies and vast Arizona deserts. The song then breaks into a groove reminiscent of early ‘90s indie heroes such as Codeine and, yes, Slint, with a pushme/pullyou feel to its stop/starting.
“March to the Sea” and “Red Ran Amber,” meanwhile, are undeniably heavy, but never in a riff-o-rama manner. This isn’t Yngwie Malmsteen, and there’s no shredding going on here, just solid, (dare I say?) mannered playing with heft behind it. (Albini again comes to mind.) In contrast, the album’s untitled fourth track is acoustic.
A hidden track tacked on after the epic conclusion of Red Sparowes’ album is four minutes of pure white noise, sounding for all the world like the inside of a jet engine. Like the overall tone of Pelican’s album, the feel here is icy. For all the rich textures of both albums, you’re left feeling somewhat cold and distant, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes, the role of music is to alter and (re)adjust your perception(s) of music itself, to give you no safe place. That’s precisely what Pelican and Red Sparowes, in their own ways, accomplish. You may not return repeatedly to either album—comfort music this ain’t—but you’ll be richly rewarded when you do; this is a pair of superb records.