Music

Saxon Shore: The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore

Mark W. Adams

An instrumental concept album that explores the "hypothetical death" of Saxon Shore -- lively or lifeless?


Saxon Shore

The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore

Label: Burnt Toast Vinyl
US Release Date: 2005-10-18
UK Release Date: Available as import
iTunes affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Concept albums are a tricky proposition: sometimes awkward, often contrived, and always held captive by their chosen subject. Even the geekiest of music obsessives count their favorite concept albums on less than one hand.

Instrumental albums also face a set of constraints and potential pitfalls. To engage the listener, most post-rock ensembles rely on sounds that can be, at their best, lush, intense, and melodic, and, at their worst, bland and texture-less.

What, then, to make of an instrumental concept album?

The press release for The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore claims that "through 10 songs, Saxon Shore explore the story of their own hypothetical death complete with a moment of silence to close the album." Reading this, you may wonder, will I hear the Saxon Shore wailing in pain, raging loudly against an ever-encroaching tunnel of darkness? Or, possibly I'll meditate on a gentle perishing, one last closing of the eyes? Is the music melancholy and droning, an anti-Prozac for rainy-day wallowing? Does Saxon Shore come to life, and then die, within this set of songs?

To answer the above, respectively: no, no, no and no.

Let's kill the death analogy, then, as perhaps the band should have. We'll instead ask: Are these original sounds, and do they breathe new life into the genre of post-rock?

Once again, no.

What is mostly heard are subtle re-hashings of the records which Saxon Shore must have on their shelves. "How We Conquered the Western World" borrows the sometime-iciness of Sigur Rųs, without adding any of their melodicism. "With A Red Suit You Will Become a Man" sounds like an electronicized take of a Lanterna song. "Marked with the Knowledge" has a piercing guitar lead that is twittering and helplessly reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky.

There are lively moments to be found. The disc-opening "The Revolution Will Be Streaming" has all the anthem-like qualities that make this genre addictive and worthy of replay. The song chimes and builds, and is at turns dark and mechanical, bright and bursting. It grabs attention without attention-grabbing lyrics. This elasticity and originality will generate enough intrigue to entice most listeners to follow the life of the album. Nine songs later, "The Lame Shall Enter First" closes the album (excepting the aforementioned gratuitous moment of silence) and carries intensity in moderation throughout its five-minute lifespan. We are left to assume that the screams buried low in the mix do, in fact, represent the perishing of Saxon Shore. It is the songs in between that don't live up to the promise of The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore.

The guitar is Saxon Shore's standard emotive instrument, while booming drums offer building crescendos and subtle electronic flourishes aim to evoke lushness and intensity. Esteemed engineer, producer, and mixer Dave Fridmann does his best to make this palette vibrant. But the compositions are largely mid-tempo, often plodding, and never achieve a grand thundering or a sweeping melancholy. There aren't enough risks, detonations, and variations within the textures of these songs.

The death motif perhaps arises from Saxon Shore's recent line-up change. The band's rhythm section departed in 2004, and founder Matt Doty questioned disposing of the band altogether. This album aims to bring forth a new collaborative effort and the "rebirth" of the Saxon Shore. Unfortunately, however, The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore is ultimately lifeless.

4

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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