Music

Pelican: The Cliff EP

With this EP, Pelican don’t seem to understand that promised tension that never delivers can be as frustrating as tension that never finds release.


Pelican

The Cliff EP

Label: Southern Lord
US Release Date: 2015-02-23
UK Release Date: 2015-02-23
Amazon
iTunes

Pelican could have done a bit better when picking their namesake. Any poetic connection between beauty and flight poets love to espouse is forever severed the first time you witness the image of the comically pouch-billed and rumpled, poop-brown mess that is a pelican flapping to a splash in the murky waters of the bayou. Even mid-flight they’re much too big to pass for graceful, looking always as if they’re about to come down in a crash. They are the exact opposite of everything that Pelican, with their ethereal and yearning brand of post-rock, strives to be.

At least they have one thing in common, though: both will fly when thrown off of a cliff -- at least if Pelican’s latest EP, The Cliff, is anything to go by. Alright, it’s a cheap joke, I’ll admit, but the fact is that this latest release does a fine job of soaring: it's made up of the eponymous track (a cut from the group's previous album, Forever Becoming), two remixes thereof, and "The Wait", a song left on the cutting room floor from that album. Unlike a certain bird, Pelican defy gravitational laws. They just keep rising and rising and rising until they leave the stratosphere, until they leave the exosphere, and indeed until it leaves Earth’s atmosphere altogether, until they’re floating so far out in space that they have no point reference to refer to and no propulsive force by which to return.

It’s not that Pelican’s brand of post-rock is indulgent. There are no excessive guitar solos or needless and interminable drum-fills. Even the longest of the songs, at nine minutes, never feels bloated. In many ways, it’s even modest: Allen Epley’s groaning croon stays in reserved, never battling with the instruments; no single element goes off on a tear. Instead they all buoy each other up. It's a very pleasant kind of background noise.

But it's also never compelling. There needs to be an anchor to ground this all before it floats away, an element here that contrasts distinctly with all of that melodious smooth rock and gives the ear an interplay to draw attention. There are lyrics, yes, and the novelty of hearing them in a Pelican song might provide a kind of weight, but it's a light one indeed: generica like “Baby, you’re fighting destiny / I’m getting close you know" generates about as much force as a spit.

Justin Broadrick attempts to remedy this with an alternate take that drops the vocals, allows more time for build, and emphasizes the drums and guitars. And if he didn’t cloak it all in an airy filter that puts the entire song at a remove, it might have worked. But he does, and then because he seems to think that the only way to counteract this is to introduce a number of cheap sounding mechanical whirrs and whizzes and grinds, he overburdens the song. There’s a clearer vision to Aaron Harris and Bryant Meyer’s mix, one that emphasizes driving sounds and intensifies the drums while back grounding the vocals for textured effect that is too sadly undercut by a closing which emphasizes a menace that was completely lacking (and rightly so) in the original song. It’s a contrast so marked, a tonal detour so baffling, that it goes right beyond providing contrast to sabotaging all prior efforts.

Only with “The Wait” does Pelican seem to provide that blessed moment of real tension when, at the halfway mark, they build for a moment, stop, seem to recant, only to then build again. This time, they build to an explosion that opens the rest of the song. However, it doesn’t explode with much force at all: the song unfolds from here, but slowly and by layers, ultimately to no great end. If it had worked to a fade out, the effect might have worked, and it might have given a sense that the song was traveling farther and farther beyond the listener’s reach. But the song instead cuts off without any kind of decorum.

By refusing to introduce any real tension, Pelican may fancy that they’re making music with a cosmic sweep, one that seems to elevate above the petty concerns or more earth-bound, conflicted rock groups. But it also seems as if they’re scared to introduce any tension for the fear that it will never be released. Unfortunately, Pelican don’t seem to understand that promised tension that never delivers can be as frustrating as tension that never finds release, or that there’s as much danger in drifting aimlessly as there is in crashing. They and their collaborators on The Cliff EP seem to forget that even a bird as ungainly in flight and piss-poor at landing as the pelican has carved out an evolutionary niche all its own.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.