Music

Gregor Samsa: Rest

Gregor Samsa's sophomore album is intentionally short of dramatic pomposity in favour of dark, heart-melting immersion.


Gregor Samsa

Rest

Label: Kora
US Release Date: 2008-05-13
UK Release Date: 2008-28-04
Amazon
iTunes

The timing of Rest could be unexpectedly inspired. Gregor Samsa have always been somewhat overshadowed by their shoegazing post-rock peers. Perhaps it is that their sound is a slow-burning one, creeping quietly into consciousness even when it ultimately ends in the crescendo that has become the genre's staple. Perhaps, alternatively, it is due to more mundane matters, like budgets and lucky breaks. Whatever, there's something about the New York outfit that doesn't fit with movie soundtracks and panoramic nature footage quite as easy as other bands with a reputation for the atmospheric. Instead, it's more contemplative -- it's music to accompany night-time introspection in lonely lamp-lit bedrooms or for gazing spaceward underneath star-speckled skies.

And that, more than ever, could now be to Gregor Samsa's benefit. Because one aspect of consensus in certain camps regarding aspects of Sigur Rós's recently released fifth long-player Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust was that the group had tired out their painstakingly meticulous climaxes. "Ára bátur" was held particularly culpable: though for some it was an epic of unparalleled grandeur; others saw it as ridiculously overblown work of bombast, almost laughably over-the-top.

It is unlikely that Rest will be the beneficiary of such laudations, nor the victim of like accusations. Because where others -- Gregor's previous releases in part included -- favour calculated crescendos whipped out of well-trodden mountains of sound, the build-up often gradual but frequently inevitable, Rest opts for a sonic terrain more latitudinous, streams and glaciers of often beautiful melody habitually present but subtly so, buried beneath a snowy blanket of restraint. What's strange about this is that they've done so while simultaneously expanded their palette of timbre; Rest's instrumental range sees an expansion on the string-augmented guitar-bass-drums combo largely employed on debut full-length 55:12 but the end result is a beautifully understated one, taking slow considered steps rather than steady, inevitable progression.

There's no better example of this than on the "The Adolescent", which ever-so-carefully adds weight to its opening gossamer glockenspiel line in the form of a similarly fragile piano, tentative flugelhorn and ultimately the introduction of Nikki King's airy vocal. The upsurge is so gradual that it passes barely unnoticed until, three minutes in, the piano breaks its reserve and you realise the beauty of what you're enveloped in. And though "The Adolescent" opens proceedings, its considered approach sets Rest's pervasive tone. "Ain Leuh" sees King and co-vocalist Champ Bennett harmonise over sweeping strings, ripples of keys and a drip-drop of bass and drums, and while "Abutting, Dismantling" trods to the steady march of singular piano chord and a corresponding drumbeat, it is purposeful rather than combative in nature. "Jeroen Van Aken" hints at climactic destination, and perhaps in the past that's where it would have ended up, but here Gregor Samsa take the low road and the swelling of guitars gives way to King and Bennett's clandestine whispers.

The overall effect of this introversion is one of an intimacy rare for a genre that usually favours the grand and expansive over the personal. When King, with equal parts heartbreak and resignation, sighs that it "seems the devil's got a grip on me", it strikes a chord with any tortured soul or woe-befallen being unable to quite see light at the end of the tunnel. "Pseudonyms" is similarly affecting, sublime ripples of piano the only thing able to break up the King's continued dejection.

Problem is, Rest is such an understated album that it practically requires this level of involvement to be maintained throughout, which isn't something Gregor quite achieve. The album is almost entirely singular in tone, which isn't an issue when, on the likes of "The Adolescent" and "Pseudonyms", the arrangements practically bleed emotion and magnificence. But "Du Meine Leise" and "Company" are little more than pretty pictures, with nothing beyond aesthetic to become immersed in, and that's when the beautifully understated becomes the underwhelming.

That's not to discredit the record too much, however. It is both refreshing and captivating for an album to be so carefully considered, every single shift in tone or introduction of instrument delicately handled and measured to perfection. That the album itself isn't quite perfection is a small disappointment, but let it not detract from what is the perfect antidote to overblown pomposity that often infects post-rock; this is a record intentionally short of drama in favour of dark, heart-melting immersion.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image