Album Reviews

Grails – Deep Politics

April 15, 2011

Score: 7.0/10.0
Temporary Residence

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Listening to Deep Politics is the locomotive equivalent of traveling on a moving sidewalk in a picture gallery. Each song comes into view like a series of conjured wall-size murals, slowly, with a methodical curation: Eastern-tinged ragas, spaghetti Western soundtracks, the occasional classic rock homage, and progressive noodling to name but a few. Yet, the album feels more cohesive than any list of disparate genres could serve. Each song keeps an even-keel, slow-and-steady rhythm. Winding instrumental movements akin to more cerebral, math-y records drive the beat forward before uncoiling into the next song. Distorted, plodding instruments defer to sparse note phrases with bright, resonant tones. The skill and technique of Grails lies in their restraint and their careful selection of stems, building up a complementary set of segments without coming off as pastiche.

Most bands five records deep won’t throw the constituents for a loop. Fans already familiar with the group won’t be surprised by their stylistic direction; an arrow pointed forward with a clear trajectory that can be traced back through Taking Refuge in Clean Living to Burning Off Impurities; refinement is the name of the game. The stoner drone haze thins out to reveal songwriting that’s lithe with arcing structures and movements. Deep Politics will sit a long time on the record player before being ousted.

For those uninitiated, but are about [to] rock, there’s little to find fault with. Grails has synthesized the fringes of experimental and instrumental rock with the classic rock jams of every teenage boy from white middle America. But to the average indie punk rocker, it’s a tall order to accommodate more bombast than a fist-pump; anything greater feels contrived. Be warned: there are moments during “Corridors of Power” that cater to that campy inner teenager clinging to his copy of Pink Floyd’s Animals. Somehow the whole business is conducted in a manner befitting aging rockers in 2011– with grace and brevity. Any inconsistencies with the aforementioned would result in something other than the newest album by Portland’s Grails.

After all of that, Deep Politics might be too much of a Grails record. With every new installment, the Grails project becomes leaden with expectations until it’s finally a two-dimensional caricature, becoming just another post-rock band. How many volumes of Black Tar Prophecies are there until the project has run it’s course? The band doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing–with a steady supply of progressive rock records yet to be plundered, and an aging population of indie rockers coming onto their own incomes, it appears more likely that peak oil will arrive before the Grails project can find a reasonable excuse for changing names or releasing a pop record. As long as they’re as entertaining as Deep Politics, there’s no reason to stop the train.

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