Grails


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
The Burden of Hope (2003), 7/10
Redlight (2004), 5/10
Black Tar Prophecies Vol's 1, 2, & 3 (2006), 7/10 (compilation)
Burning Off Impurities (2007), 7.5/10
Take Refuge In Clean Living (2008), 7.5/10 (mini)
Doomsdayer's Holiday (2008), 6.5/10
Deep Politics (2011), 6.5/10
Holy Sons: Drifter's Sympathy (2009), 6/10
Holy Sons: Criminal's Return (2009), 5/10
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Oregon's Grails (guitarists Alex Hall and Zak Riles, bassist William Slater, and drummer Emil Amos) played instrumental post-rock of a soothing kind. The vignettes of The Burden of Hope (Neurot, 2003), driven by the violin, were evocative and atmospheric, and covered a lot of ground. The Burden Of Hope transitions from sleepy jazzy noir to heroic climax in the best tradition of post-rock dynamics. The agonizing opening violin solo leads into the spectacularly anemic sub-blues jam The Deed. The melodies are so gratingly pathetic and solemn that here and there one hears eachoes of Zappa's mock-orchestral "genteel" music (In The Beginning). A folkish romp turns into rowdy southern boogie in Space Prophet Dogon. A mournful tremulous "whistle", a war-dance beat and western movie guitar twang sculpt the pathos of White Flag before it takes off with distorted psychedelic guitar worthy of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. For the sake of variety there is also room for the brief mournful guitar elegy a` la Leo Kottke of Lord I Hate Your Day, for the funereal mood piece The March, and for the relatively free-form Invocation. Canyon Hymn ends the album in quiet undertones, desert music for meditation and contemplation.

There was more interaction among violin, piano and even saxophone on Redlight (Neurot, 2004) but sounds generally less austere. Despite the grandiose, waltzing theme of Dargai and the tender "ballad" New Lystra, these instrumentals are also a lot less melodic (or their melodies are a lot less engaging) than the first album's instrumentals. There are hints at the past (The Volunteer harks back to the psychedelic ragas of the 1960s. and Worksong sounds like the postmodernist deconstruction of vintage marching bands) and there are experimental moments (the loud and noisy High & Low, the seven-minute quasi-flamenco crescendo of Fevers). There is only one moment of real pathos, with the desperate overtones of Redlight. Mostly, this is too lightweight to leave a trace.

Interpretations Of Three Psychedelic Rock Songs From Around The World (Latitudes 4) (Southern, 2005) delivered three surreal covers.

Black Tar Prophecies Vol's 1, 2, & 3 (Important, 2006), originally released as EPs, upped the ante by providing an impressive catalogue of ideas, and occasionally approaching the expressionistic intensity of the German band Faust. The bulk of the album comes from the EP Black Tar Prophecies Vol 2 (Aurora Borealis, 2006): the hypnotic, repetitive and Indian-tinged Back To The Monastery, the sublime post-dub cosmic fantasy Black Tar Frequencies, the detour into stoner-rock of Belgian Wake-Up Drill, and the simpler nocturnal guitar blues Smokey Room. A split EP with the Red Sparowes yielded the aquatic dub-jazz nightmare of Bad Bhang Recipe, the Middle-eastern shuffle of Stray Dog, and the eight-minute droning cosmic freak-folk meditation of Black Tar Prophecy. Finally, the album compiles the haunting Erosion Blues, reminiscent of jazz-rock of the 1970s, and its extroverted counterpart More Erosion.

Burning Off Impurities (Temporary Residence, 2007), structured in longer pieces, used keyboards and sampling to disorienting effects, creating a genre-neutral genre, a prismatic cauldron of estranged musical stereotypes from jazz, folk, world-music, etc. There is a general disorienting strategy at work, anarchic guitar tones colliding with geometric rhythms, loose abstract sections morphing into overly structured sections, shapeless counterpoint revealing hints of old-fashioned genres, etc. The Middle-eastern death march Soft Temple is dotted with psychedelic dissonance. Drawn Curtains bridges acid-rock and neoclassical music. The propulsive jam Outer Banks nurtures an undercurrent of sinister noise. The furious crescendo of Origin-ing peters out in an extended dreamy acid-blues jam. The music can be convoluted, but, when the combo sticks to a more conventional balance of elements, the result is melodic and rhythmic fantasias such as Silk Rd and Dead Vine Blues, all the way to the melodic apotheosis of Burning Off Impurities. The focus was shifting towards timbres and colors and away from wild dynamic excursions (the abused trademark of post-rock).

Despite thicker instrumental harmonies, the mini-album Take Refuge In Clean Living (Important, 2008) still refrained from all-out sensory aggression, but dissonance played an even larger role. There are gloomy rumbles at the beginning of Stoned At The Taj Again that evoke alien worlds before the stringed instruments and the drums engage in their martial raga-like crescendo. that ends with a whirling breathless industrial dance. PTSD lays down a floating carpet of metallic "Chinese opera" guitar tones and then superimposes a scenario of loose cosmic sounds, an elegant essay of post-psychedelic chamber rock music. The language is so fluent and smooth that pieces like Take Refuge evoke classic prog-rock of the 1970s (witness how the exotic-instrument strumming and the western-movie twang blend in an heroic Morricone-esque apotheosis). It is not only atmosphere: 11th Hour intones a soaring guitar melody woven into a fabric of baroque harpsichord tremors and "Indian war dance" rhythm. The mystery of their instrumental music is well embodied in the closing piano elegy Clean Living, amid sloppy playing, droning nebulae of electronica, detuned instruments, languid strings and a general sense of indifference.

Doomsdayer's Holiday (Temporary Residence, 2008), their "heaviest" album yet, continued to filter and recycle their countless influences (folk, jazz, world, psychedelic) but often within the same (mostly short) piece. The quartet did not need a lot of time to perform open-heart surgery on the history of music. Even the most stable structures were exploring a vast landscape, from the smodlering stoner riffs of Doomsdayer's Holiday to the stately, windy Pink Floyd-ian elegy Acid Rain (that could have been on Momentary Lapse), from the post-Hendrixian romp of Reincarnation Blues to the gentle Zen vignette The Natural Man, from the pop-metal indulgence of Predestination Blues to the abstract electronic dissonant poem X-Contaminations. The most sophisticated concept is perhaps the jazz-noir hallucination of Immediate Mate, one of the few rock compositions to resurrect Peter Green's End of the Game,

Emil Amos launched the project Holy Sons with Drifter's Sympathy (Important, 2009) and Criminal's Return (Important, 2009), two collections of psychedelic folk-rock with drum machines.

The Grails returned to the organic and intense music of Take Refuge In Clean Living on Deep Politics (Temporary Residence, 2011), hiding the complexity of their scores behind a veneer of elegance and epos. There are still hard tones in Future Primitive, with exotic passages sandwiched between a syncopated funky guitar and a metal guitar melody, but the album is mostly mellow and user-friendly. Despite short intermezzi like the classy, funereal Daughters Of Bilitis, it is hard to call this "post-rock" anymore. The eight-minute Almost Grew My Hair is simply a melodic fantasias of the classic prog-rock era. The album contains her most melodic effort yet, the soaring Morricone-esque theme of All The Colors Of The Dark, with the melodramatic Deep Politics a close second. These are cinematic pieces that would work well as Hollywood soundtracks. The nine-minute I Led Three Lives is the atmospheric and melodramatic peak of the album, and it is emblematic of their new form of art: vividly linguistic, profoundly emotional, tenderly melodic, pervaded my metaphysical mystery while grounded in very corporeal rhythms. In general, however, the arrangements and the production get too close to background supermarket/elevator music.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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