The ground is shaking. Or the waters are troubled, the sky is falling, and there's something menacing afoot. There's no map or compass that can save us now, no sixth sense or sharpened intuition that can offer any semblance of insight or hope. We find ourselves mired in a shadowy and thick darkness. Things here are scary.
And Inouk are a band with a searchlight. They are blessed saviors whose music is the jaws of life, the revitalizing breath, the cable leading up out of the crevasse. They are the rescuers.
Curiously, Inouk offer such a release because their music emanates from a place that is neither neutral nor safe. It's awash with minor tones and nagging vocals that deny easy listening at every turn; the threads among and even within tracks weave an intricate tapestry of genres, influences, and subject matter. The risks they take give their songs a heroic tenor in a literal and figurative sense. Figurative because melodies are cast as brave charges over difficult terrain, and literal because thankfully, they defy categorization and, thankfully, it not only works but it also matters.
Whether or not you're ready for Inouk can, in large part, be sussed out by your reaction to the first track -- and, even, the first minute of music. "What I Want": a fuzzy, distant introduction -- as if broadcast over CB radio from many miles away -- begins this first track before the quality clears up and the music charges in. It's a standard 4/4 beat that doesn't feel that way, for it is choppy and strong, bright but not cheery, like rough sea on an otherwise sunny day. When Damon McMahon sings -- he is a guitarist and one of the lead singers -- it cuts through the music like a machete cuts through dense brush. Calling his singing merely distinct is not an adequate description. Better said, there is something animal about it -- not only in its eager abandon and unique pitch, but also in ability to command whatever ambiance it enters, to render a musical landscape into its habitat. It's not a human singing voice but more like a mating call, and to the right beast, it's unbearably attractive.
It is this mesmerizing quality that, coupled with the free, rolling nature of their music -- easy in its musical shifts, no matter how complicated they might actually be -- that makes No Danger one of those albums that can absorb you, enveloping you in its magic and passing by, ending before you've really come to grips with what is occurring. The album's first two-thirds is lumbering and slow - orchestral songs which build to dramatic climaxes and wallow in murky, pungent depths. Alex McMahon, Damon's younger brother, also sings, and when he does it is gorgeous in a more placid, reflective way; it anchors his brother's cries and sands their edges. This softer side closes with "Somewhere in France", and I would be doing this review and you, the reader, a disservice if I didn't tell you that it is one of the most beautiful songs I have heard this year. I don't have the words or the strength to express to you just how radiant it is. All I can say is that I spent a day where I must have listened to it a hundred times, and every time, I felt something clenching in my stomach and feverish in my head.
Inouk's proficiency with mid-tempo numbers does not detract from their ability to also step up the pace, in ways that are surprising, moving, and -- dare I say it -- rocking. "Island", the eighth track and the fastest up to that point, has a charging, folk-inspired amble that is matched against noisy, cheeky rock asides. The coupling makes for a countrified prog that zings as much as it twangs. "Victory", the last track, is also a musical-grab bag which gestures to the more experimental punk, psychedelic rock, roots rock, and Britpop.
Inouk are not for everyone. Their music requires an open mind, a naked soul, and a courageous heart. It requires ears that can hear connections between disparate localities -- ears that can listen across time and space, that fear neither noise nor silence. Giving yourself to Inouk is not unlike placing yourself in the crossfire, hiding out on a battlefield unarmed or standing too close to the flame. But these places are exhilarating not because they are painless, but because the wounds and scars they undoubtedly promise will ultimately provide a richer experience than playing it safe. Inouk rightly promise no danger, but first, you have to have the guts to put yourself in harm's way.