Monday, April 27, 2015
Pillars and Tongues "End Dances" on Empty Cellar Records
A friend of mine from Ireland always used to swear by The Blue Nile. They rarely recorded, releasing albums every six or seven years. He made them sound mythical and different from the bands I knew who went after commercial success or pushed the underground envelope. They seemed to be able to redefine what intelligent and hugely produced sound could be. A band with the skill and resources to pull off something really unusual within a traditional pop structure. The resources required for production today may not be as taxing but that skill and direction is still a rare thing. The Blue Nile is the first thing that came to mind when listening to End Dances from Pillars and Tongues on Empty Cellar Records. Vocally Mark Trecka has a similar cavernous crooning delivery. It's a naturally gifted vocal that softly works over loops and weird atmospheric samples in perfect contrast to the mysterious dreamlike soundscape they create over both sides of this record.
A-Side's "Knifelike" begins the epic journey the way that a bleak landscape can convey the huge distances between people and places. The way those vast stretches of the planet aren't inhabited by much life at all like this understated rhythm consisting of an electronic sounding woodblock and rim shot. They favor these cool, minimal structures with just enough of a skeleton to be somewhat recognizable with haunting loops of scratching metal becoming an ancient kettle drum. Mark's vocal is an emotional chant, witness to a ritual, a primal, ancient rite reenacted by a trained classical vocalist who's aware of the space and the way a body can project. "Dogs" takes on a middle eastern quality with melodies that scatter everything at random managing to sculpt a form with enough structure intact to enforce melodic pop. Beth emerges from the background an essential ghostly element mirroring his emotional delivery. They can feel like the southwest, a purple, flat mesa style landscape mixed with Moroccan architecture. There's nothing specific being hinted at but something even harder; an attempt to understand the much larger picture. Over and over this record gives you the space to attempt to go to that place and the time with it to spend on the subject. "Bell + Rein" begins with the sound of a natural orchestra tuning up with the rattling of guitar strings, decaying loops and infinite feedback. Sounds that create themselves without any intervention if you're willing to let that chaos work itself out like the Dirty Beaches soundtrack to Water Park. You have to be willing to leave things to chance but you're never going to get tired of creating the work live. Any of these tracks are going to take new shape every night and always be surprising like The Disintegration Loops ending up in a completely new place from where it started. Set up the parameters and let it twist into a new shape. Heavily meditative and underneath a violin willing it's melody into a very specific direction after all and I'm hoping it happened in the same room, live while these sounds were rising and fading into something new. "Points of Light" is positively optimistic with Beth harmonizing to the point of pure religion of a layered choir of voices, the primary instrument of the band. It's the thing that honestly can't be duplicated. The one instrument that can't be replaced by any sort of technology - you can shape it with autotune, but the foundation has to be there. They create a slow moving, half height wall of sound that's exponentially growing, not in a threatening way, but coming in for a closer look. If the human voice is the centerpiece in their exploration of these huge themes then Mark's vocal is the the core of that search.
On B-Side's "Medora" they introduce more subtle rhythms and as much of this feels free and open, there are times it gets a little ominous or dark. I think those opposites are at work here. It can be a serious affair with no room for lightness. After all they're tackling huge existential questions, from the place of a spiritual echo chamber their voices expanding out into a supernova of harmonies. It's impressive the organic, natural sound they get out of clearly manipulated samples. They don't immediately give up their source and provide a foundation for Mark's vocal to squarely place this in a real place. The repetition and loops encourage a meditative trance like some kind of new age psych, mentally changing the way you approach hearing these sounds. This violin demands a thought process with a sort of math inherent in the melodies or maybe because it's such a frail temporary sound that seems to float by like some kind of balloon string just out of reach. "Ends" is one of the most memorable tracks giving in to the most random acts of chaos, the fading layers of loops come crashing in heavy waves with a skeletal tiny violin the only sign of humanity in this endless sea of bubbling static. "Ships" picks things back up and is the dawn breaking, harmonies flying, a clearing of the storm. This is Pillars at the height of their powers, the culmination of all the previos tracks, all the ways they've been building to this point with a real sign of hope. We might not have come up with any answers but they might be suggesting that we don't have to either.
Deluxe package here with heavy tip on sleeve and newsprint fold out insert with lyrics and liner notes. Really honors the material inside. Pick it up from Empty Cellar Records.