Monday, June 16, 2008

Gregor Samsa

Even if it doesn't end up being my favorite album of the year (for which it'll be a major contender), Gregor Samsa's new album will unquestionably win for Best Packaging.  The limited edition version of Rest comes enclosed in a hand-numbered folio with a rivet and sting closure.  Inside is a custom gate-fold CD sleeve die-cut to reveal a print by the terrific folks at Stumptown Press, plus an 8 page rivet bound book containing extra artwork and lyrics. This is how to get people to buy the physical thing!



As for the music therein... it breathes new life into that whole sweeping "post-rock" sound that has gradually gotten a bit stale since the third Mogwai record or thereabouts. I was a bit disappointed by the latest Silver Mt. Zion release, and this is something of a consolation.  These gals & guys peddle a similar brand of minor-key, orchestral rock.  I sort of cringe at the sound of that term, and few bands pull off the melding of rock with chamber instrumentation without sounding pretentious or precious, but Gregor Samsa contrast understated arrangements with just the right amount of crescendoing grandiosity.  And just the right ratio of shimmering polish to rough immediacy. The male/female vocal interplay is just perfect, complimenting the often brooding instrumentation (which falls somewhere between GY!BE and M83) with an evocatively human underpinning.  The album often sounds like an Icelandic This Mortal Coil.

The usual post-rock accoutrements are all here—vibraphone, string section, mellotron—but Rest is far from formulaic. You get the sense the 12-piece band is just making the music they want to hear, comfortably incorporating a host of disparate elements. Like the early "post-rock" progenitors (Tortoise, GY!BE again), Gregor Samsa isn't trying to make "post-rock"; they're just filtering their influences and interests into something that defies genre. That's what I always hated about the term "post-rock." It's counter-productive to try to label what amounts to an evolution away from easy categorization.    



(I think I remember reading a review of one of this band's first two albums, but I wrote them off because I always assume bands with overt literary references for names will lack subtlety... goes to show me!)


Here, hear for yourself:

"Jeroen Van Aken" by Gregor Samsa (download):








And see for yourself:

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