Available on: Constellation
It seems a bit churlish to mark down a record based on “could do better” criteria, and to wish they’d stick to their original sound, but it’s tough not to in this case. It’s not like this is a bad record – it’s a very good record, in fact. It’s a set of great, intense, folky-punky-indie-noise-rock songs jams that make a glorious racket and quite frequently take flight into levels of intensity that’ll get your arm-hairs standing up. And it’s very clearly from the heart: like everything in the SMZ / Godspeed You / Constellation axis, there’s absolutely no question that they mean it, maaaan.
It’s just that the folky-punky-indie part of that equation – and particularly the vocals – seem to weigh it down. The power of this stuff has always been that it expresses its dissatisfaction with the world and hopes and fears for a better one in ways that seem cryptic at first but which hit hard right at your heart if you immerse yourself in it. Whether they’re super-heavy guitar and strings pileup or weightless ambient (and SMZ have made at least one of the greatest ambient tracks of all time), the intensity of the sound, the cryptic and peculiar voiceovers and the disconcerting atmospherics – combined with the brilliantly ridiculous song titles – all combine to get over all the feelings of terror, anomie and disaffection, but also community, shared creativity and hope that they pour into their work.
The problem is that the vocals sound generic. Impressively generic, to be fair – like they’ve tapped into some deep vein of white-man-alienation vocal tics that runs all the way through Roger Waters, Robert Smith and Graham Coxon to name just a few – but that cultural specificity somehow shuts down the expression and scope of the songs, which is a shame. Because when each one cuts loose, like when the guitar which sounds like an angle-grinder is pushed to the front on ‘Fuck Off Get Free (For The Island Of Montreal)’ or the prog-punk-with-violins riff frenzy in the second half of ‘Take Away These Early Grave Blues’, you just start to think how mindblowing this record would be if it was all, or mostly, instrumental. So as rousing as it undoubtedly is – and, of course, there’s no volume level too high to play it at – well… they can do better.