[15 March 2007]
A band known for noise is not often lauded for a shift toward the quiet, feigning maturity and development as they go. When Metallica ditched its thrash roots for a more measured, decidedly mainstream approach, purists shouted heresy even as the masses bought in. When Smashing Pumpkins tossed aside the troubled Jimmy Chamberlin and embraced drum machines and synths on Adore, it signaled the beginning of the end of that band as the album languished in critical and popular purgatory. And then there’s Aerosmith, whose Diane Warren-penned “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” might be the most reviled piece of its extensive catalog, despite the fact that it hit #1 all over the world and is now a standby of wannabe pop stars in Simon Fuller’s Idol franchise.
And yet, with Aereogramme, there were always signs that it could be different. Sure, Aereogramme is a band that’s made its name playing it loud, with a wall of sound that could potentially beat its listeners into submission—yet, the art of subtlety has never been lost on the band, and they’re as literate as just about any band out there. It’s almost as though the only direction they could travel that would make for any sort of “artistic development” was the direction of quiet—something that would startle their fanbase, something that would finally put their always-there melodic expertise at the forefront of the music they create. Thus, it comes as not all that much of a surprise that the band’s newest album, called My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go, is entirely successful in just about everything save its choice of title.
The massive in its not-quite-five-minutes “Barriers” is the defining moment of the entire album, utilizing electric guitars, sure, but putting those guitars beneath the violins in the mix. There’s even a violin solo! A violin solo! Over waltzy pianos and drums and bass guitar that would have sounded perfectly normal on, say, a Ben Folds Five record! There are a few big instrumental builds and anthemic moments there to remind us that, yes, this is indeed an Aereogramme record, but the skill with which the band mixes the multitude of instruments and all the dueling melodies involved is positively mind-blowing. “Barriers” belongs on mix tapes worldwide—it’s just beautiful, and even after five, ten, even fifteen listens, the enormity of it remains surprising and affecting.
Just as surprising, however, are the multitudinous quiet moments, starting with the song that follows “Barriers”, the utterly gorgeous “Exits”, a song cut from the mold of U2’s “Running to Stand Still”; it builds quietly without ever really exploding, adding elements subtly, but structurally rolling along into oblivion with no true end in sight. “The Running Man” adds a sinister element with banged pianos that hop around the bass clef, and the lovely “Trenches” sounds for its first half like an orchestra (with a brass section, even) playing the quietest song it knows.
Occasionally, Aereogramme’s flair for the orchestral threatens to implode the songs contained within, as things like the attempted epic “Living Backwards” and the overly dramatic “Nightmares” overwhelm the melodies that are the album’s strength. The fairly pedestrian lyrics tend to be overwhelmed by the music as well, which might be a good thing given the prominent placement of repeated snippets like “Remember the love we had” and “There’s no way out and no way in / I might not be needing this oxygen”. The vocals are mostly another instrument in the already dense mix.
It would seem, however, that that’s the point—the vocals are there to accentuate whatever mood it is that the instruments are trying to get across, and at that they succeed wondrously. My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go is an album that could accurately be described as “lush”, “layered”, or “lovely”, depending on how analytical the describer happens to be feeling. Regardless of the words used to describe it, however, it is an achievement for a band that made its name in noise and cacophony. Sure, the elements of a release like this were always there in the band’s music, but never, ever was there any indication that Aereogramme would commit to it so totally and so perfectly. Drop your preconceptions; My Heart… needs to be heard.