Thee More Shallows
More Deep Cuts
t’s a story that’s been written and rewritten during the history of rock music. The short and sweet version goes like this: band makes stunning debut album, critics salivate, band returns to studio to make follow up record, gets bogged down in details, obsesses over each note, sees months turn into years, critics scratch heads and label the band reclusive, and wonder bitterly “where are they now?” Bands that follow this storyline either hit a homerun or fall flat on their faces upon their return. There’s rarely an in between. At some point, attention to detail becomes obsession and obsession tends to be blinding; what works and what doesn’t becomes secondary to fulfilling a vision that may be, at best, unattainable and, at worst, self-corrupting. During the solid three plus years between Thee More Shallows A History of Sport Fishing and their follow-up More Deep Cuts principal band members Dee Kesler and Tadas Kisielius labored over each note, obsessed over every aspect of the music, before finally pushing the whole mess out into the world and expecting us to make sense of it.
Despite the broad array of instruments used on More Deep Cuts, which run the gamut from singing saw to French Horn to toy piano, the mood of the record is one of stasis. There’s a lot going on musically, but the lyrical and vocal inflection coupled with spacious production creates a sense of movement without time. It’s the aural equivalent of watching a time lapse film in which a central figure stands still while the world blooms and dies, goes from light to dark, builds and disintegrates around him. It’s not so much that Thee More Shallows has tried to create a reflection of a mood, it’s more that the twelve tracks on More Deep Cuts hold, create, and extend this single mood of isolation. Not too surprising really when you consider that the band’s been holed up for years trying to get everything just right. Of course at some point working in isolation becomes a dominant subject matter in itself.
More Deep Cuts is an intense listen. There’s gravitas injected into each note, a sense of weight that could easily be mistaken for an off-handed self-importance. A song like “Freshman Thesis,” which outwardly may speak to the simple struggles of a developing mind trying find its voice, is a band laying down its blueprint in two distinct musical movements. Beginning with a simple string movement that cedes way to a jittering beat and purposeful guitar line, Kesler sings about the process of creating art from the artificial (making what he thinks others want) to the honest (“this time when I write it down, I’ll do it faithfully”) which is greeted with an explosion of revved up chords and distortion as if every neuron and synapse is propelled into action by an unexpected truth. The song, like much of the album, is saved from its own self reverence by the meticulous production that recalls Notwist’s Neon Golden and Kevin Shields’ obsessiveness in equal parts.
”Ave Grave” is a beautifully melodic song full of keyboard hum and a carefully plucked guitar. Kesler sings in his slight whisper of a voice about burying bodies in mass graves and an observation about time (“when you give in to the mercy of time, you don’t try to survive, you just try to get by on whatever it brings”) that speaks to the labor of years spent creating More Deep Cuts.
As you might expect from a record as obsessed over as this, the music is complex and full. There’s an intricacy to these songs that draws power from the juxtaposition of played instruments, found sounds, and both organic and electronic noise. It’s a well constructed mélange that recalls Massive Attack’s Mezzanine in tone if not in immediate sound. “2 AM” finds Kesler’s voice nearly overwhelmed by the rising sounds of toy piano, choral echoes of artificial voices, furious beat, and the song’s eventual complete descent into a howling void, echoes of whispers climbing up from a blackness that recalls barely audible radio transmissions reaching a lone car on a highway that runs from small town nowhere to big city anonymity.
Often the songs take almost their entire length to piece themselves together. Album closer “House Break” requires just about its entire length to gather itself into melodic coherence before resolving itself in a muted howl of tape feedback and the line, “say goodnight or say goodbye”; up until the last moment you can’t take your ears off it. It’s not a thrill ride so much as a riddle you feel constantly on the edge of solving, cerebral and engaging.
More Deep Cuts is the sound of a band “left to ourselves and our strange beliefs.” Given the band’s recording process it may be years before we hear what they do for an encore, but in the meantime this record will stand as a testament to what meticulous obsession can create.
Reviewed by: Peter Funk
Reviewed on: 2005-08-23