Music

Gregor Samsa: 55:12

Gregor Samsa create long, moody indie-ambient landscapes in which occasional monsters spring out at you.


Gregor Samsa

55:12

Label: Kora
US Release Date: 2006-03-06
Insound affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

I heard Gregor Samsa for the first time after picking up their 2002 EP, Gregor Samsa, because I liked the cover. It was a piece of semi-transparent pale grey plastic with excerpts from Kafka printed across the front and drawings of circles in place of song titles. The songs were called "O", "OO" and "OOO." If you wanted to say them aloud, it would be "Spot," " Spot Spot " and " Spot Spot Spot," or "Circle Circle," or "Oooh." You'd be in the same boat as reviewers who tried to cope with Sigur Rós' ( ), which was released in the same year.

The band is like Sigur Rós in other ways. They like to play long soundscapes, the kind of thing that goes -

Chord.

Pause.

Chord.

Singer sighs.

Chord.

Singer says a word or two.

Chord.

An instrument goes bong.

Chord.

Etc.

I enjoy this sort of music, so 55:12 and I get along together well. Gregor Samsa don't have the icy, delicate sweep of Sigur Rós or the storybook sparkle of Múm, but they occupy a darkened corner of their own, a buried place with stretches of tension and one or two startling monsters that crash out at you.

The music begins softly, builds slowly, and then the instruments come together in a crescendo before everything tapers off again. You've heard a framework like this before, and you've heard the ideas they use to fill it: whispering, fragile voices; a strummed guitar; a distant scrape; a shimmer that wells out of the background and surrounds you as if you're swimming through your own bloodstream listening to the muffled ticking and shuffling of a submerged world. Parts of it could be the soundtrack for your next visit to the womb. It's to Gregor Samsa's credit that they can keep the soundscape going for almost an hour without violating the internal harmony of the thing or letting it sag. The ideas they draw on are not always their own but they use them well.

They’ve moved away from the misty grey plastic cover of their first release, and this time the CD sits inside an envelope of dark grey cardboard which is wrapped in a belt of brown paper. The names of the songs are written on this belt and nowhere else, so I'm going to be careful not to lose it even though the tone of 55:12 makes me wonder if titles really matter that much. "Makeshift Shelters," "Young And Old," "What I Can Manage," and the rest, are evocative rather than descriptive. Texture seems more important here than prosaic meaning. Not a lot has changed since the EP of "O"s. The arrangements are more complicated and lush than they used to be, and the temperament of the music has grown darker, but they're still, recognisably, the same band.

I bought Múm's Summer Make Good partly on the strength of its packaging and if I didn't already have a copy of 55:12 I'd be tempted to do the same here, but I'm aware that as soon as I finish this review and put the album on my shelf, the cardboard envelope will slip into a crack between two of the wider, plastic CD cases and I'll have to search like crazy to find it again. Still, I'll make the effort. I like 55:12, despite the fact that I'm always being reminded of other albums while I'm listening to it. I'll want to play to it again, just as I'll play Rothko again and Sigur Rós again. It's in good company.

6

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

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

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

rating-image