Dutch radio session and rarities collection shows again just how good this overlooked Virginia post-rock band is.
Gregor Samsa is so good it's just obvious to fans that its obscurity is not just a travesty but one of those everyday travesties that lovers of any art run into on a regular basis. After two frankly astounding records that find a sweet and melancholy spot somewhere between Sigur Ros and early Low (but with an emotional clarity and tough-mindedness much closer to the latter), the band continues to be one of the few shining examples of "post-rock", which actually has life left in it. Not surprisingly, Gregor Samsa is as unsung as its now-split contemporaries Kepler. Over Air is both a nice token of affection for fans and a perfect place for the curious to begin falling under the band's spell. Whether from the reduced circumstances of being a tiny band in 2009 or sheer cussedness, Over Air, its latest offering, is only available on tour or through the Kora label's website, which isn't so much unfortunate as it is mildly perverse.
However much one wishes more people would hear Over Air, though, you can't fault the contents. The first six tracks and the bulk of the running time capture a radio session Gregor Samsa did at the Dutch radio station VPRO, which consisted mostly of material from 2008's gorgeous Rest. It culminates with a stunning rendition of debut 55:12 highlight "Young and Old", the only time the band gets loud and abrasive. Having such a stirring climax after such lulling, gorgeous music is both effective and profoundly moving (it helps that the end of "Young and Old" sounds a bit like the offspring of Mew's great "Comforting Sounds" and MONO/World's End Girlfriend's classic Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain LP). Rounding out Over Air is a small grab bag of alternate versions and early versions, as well as a remix of "We'll Lean This Way Forever" that gets rendered into a beautifully blank smear of noise by Labradford's Bobby Donne. But the aforementioned radio session is both the main attraction and an excellent summation of what makes Gregor Samsa a great band. Let's hope the band's small but devout following can sustain it for years to come.