It’s always tempting to rush right in and get florid with the works of the Goslings, but as they’ve never been reviewed in PopMatters before, maybe we should just take a deep breath and go over the basics first. Leslie and Max Soren and whoever they have drumming for them make up the Goslings; they come from Florida with what their label calls “punishing ceremonial sludge-gaze.” Max plays guitar and Leslie is usually credited with “vocals, other” on the sleeve. Their sound somehow manages to be thick and fuzzy and ridiculously overdriven, and yet somehow warm, plush, inviting, even as Leslie is howling as if she’s about to be ritually sacrificed.
Occasion is their third full-length, and is either the best or worst place for newcomers to start; it’s kind of hard to tell. I heard 2005’s Between the Dead (still possibly my favourite, in the same way that you remember the first time you get stabbed the most vividly) because the guy giving it to me described the sound as ‘“reverberating mud,” and if you can imagine a tornado of the stuff then I guess that’s a fair description. 2006’s Grandeur of Hair took their Comets-on-Fire-meets-early-Jesu-meets-getting-a-sandpaper-massage (cathartic! refreshing!) sound to new heights, and I still have yet to meet anyone who can hear “Croatan” without having a violent reaction of some sort.
Often, yes, that reaction is not a positive one. But I’m not some grinning noise-freak who enjoys atonal scrapes and yowls just because it pushes other peoples’ buttons, and Goslings are not that kind of band. They walk an incredibly delicate line: riff-heavy enough for the metalheads, pummeling enough for the noise enthusiasts, textured enough for serious shoegaze fanatics, and although I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Goslings song go verse-chorus-verse, they’re still catchy enough for fans of “songs.” Best of all, it’s impossible to walk away from Occasion or any other Goslings album thinking that it’s the product of calculation. Max and Leslie and their friends get so intensely locked-in and euphoric (in that skin-being-flayed kind of way), and this sound is so off-putting to the unconverted, that their love of what they’re doing is palpable.
The first 20 minutes of Occasion is like having the wind knocked out of you by a sledgehammer made of densely packed sparks. As on a lot of their best material, the Goslings sound like they’re unsatisfied with what Black Sabbath came up with for “Hand of Doom” and want to make music that really lives up to the name. “Mew” starts off the album with five minutes of being run over by a steamroller followed by three minutes of being locked in the closet with Frankenstein’s Monster. Those three minutes surprised me—they’ve always had quieter interludes, but never integrated into the body of a longer song like this, and it’s strikingly effective. Especially when the monster croaks out “all that is left is a father’s love for its child” and then suddenly the nearly twelve-minute “Parsley Halo” is tuning up. If I had to play just one Goslings track for you, this might be it. The prolonged buildup for the first seven or so minutes, where the track sounds like doom metal being played from beneath a lava flow, is great enough, but then the band really clamps down and starts sawing its way through a riff so powerful and heavy that you could probably use it to drive steam engines.
If those two tracks were released as some sort of Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada-style EP, I would probably knife fight you for a copy. They, along with the equally devastating “Motorcade”, showcase the classic Goslings sound at its most ravishing, the kind of experience that a friend whom I turned on to the band described as leaving you “deafened but renewed, a slate wiped of all thoughts and worries.” What makes Occasion so interesting for previous converts is the other five tracks: Not one dips above five minutes. Which doesn’t mean they’re suddenly pop songs. “Vitium”, “Brohmbrahim”, and the rest are just compressed examples of what makes these guys great. But the difference to the experience of listening to the Goslings that the 47-minute run time makes is surprisingly large.
Part of the fun and satisfaction of listening to the band, as my friend alluded to, is the element of an ordeal to it: you feel purged and triumphant afterwards. Not that it’s only satisfying in a masochistic way; I always have a hard time describing the Goslings’ music just because it’s hard to evoke the sound and at the same time preserve for you just how much fun it is. Occasion front loads the epics we’re used to, and so may be more digestible for wanting to take the plunge and see what the Goslings’ small but vocal cult have been raving about; by the time you might start feeling scared, there’s only a few short tracks to go. But that was one of the great things about my initial grapples with their past works—feeling like you’ve been beaten with a rubber hose and realizing you still have half an hour to go is perversely thrilling, and as good as Occasion is, I can only hope anyone who enjoys it proceeds backwards to the supersized Grandeur of Hair to get the full effect.
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// Sound Affects
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