[9 December 2003]
For over five years, Montreal-based Constellation Records has been the home for some of the most interesting post-rock to fill record store bins. However, much of the Constellation roster has been overshadowed by the looming presence of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Since their inception, they have been shrouded in mystery and cloaked in pretension. Whether changing the placement of the exclamation point in their band name; exposing corporate ties between record labels and the military industrial complex; or allowing their music to be used in 28 Days Later (but not in the retail soundtrack), GY!BE have become more about their persona than their music, clouding the Constellation roster with their overbearing presence. And that’s a shame, because labelmates Do Make Say Think, with their fourth full length, Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, have not only released one of the best albums of the year, but one of the best “post-rock” albums to see release in a long time.
Where GY!BE’s compositions are operatic, Do Make Say Think’s are cinematic. Though a bit more accessible than GY!BE, Do Make Say Think are as expansive, painting on canvasses that equally evoke the filmic landscapes of David Lynch and David Lean. The most rewarding experience of listening to Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn is seeing these songs come together. Often starting with scattered experimental guitars, strings or horns, the songs slowly come together, like bits of mercury under a magnet, forming a beautiful whole. The compositions move with a slow, meditative power, before arching into a triumphant finale. Superficially this may lump them in with GY!BE, however, where GY!BE are completely predictable, the melodies on Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn emerge from corners, are layered and hidden, waiting to be uncovered by receptive ears.
The album starts on a whisper with “Frederica”. Quietly plucked and slowly, softly strummed guitars fill most of the track, and it’s nearly two minutes before we see the emergence of any percussion. Like a disagreement that slowly turns nasty, the song builds and erupts with volcanic fury. “War on Want” buzzes with dancing strings before segueing into the enormously beautiful “Auberge Le Mouton Noir”, a rollicking number that has distorted rock guitars carrying the tune over haunting keys and thundering drums. “Outer Inner & Secret” finds sheets of guitar rising and falling, beautifully washing away delicate melodies laid out by a shy keyboard. “Ontario Plates”—the best song on the album—is also its jazziest. The first half of the track is led by playful horns which seem to have escaped from the Blue Note catalogue, before dazzling percussion-led guitars join the horns for a stunning finale that is at once heart swelling and jaw dropping.
While GY!BE have been busy making manifestos, Do Make Say Think have been quietly honing their craft, creating something in Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn that doesn’t demand attention, but grabs it instead. With surprises at every turn, yet with an accessibility that too many post-rock acts try so hard to avoid, Do Make Say Think bring a pop sensibility to their experimental leanings. The result is an album of swelling grace and devastating power; that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on it sleeve, yet flexes a musical muscle that is to be reckoned with.
There hasn’t been a better time for Do Make Say Think to emerge out of the shadow of their labelmates, and Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn may be their ticket to a wider audience. Brilliant, shimmering and wonderfully composed, Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn is one of the best albums of year, and the best album GY!BE have never released.