Tuesday, November 6, 2007

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

"Question. Is your name Ridley Scott or James Cameron?"
"No, it's Homer."
"Then I would thank you to stop peering at my screen play, Homer. And if I see a movie where computers threaten our personal liberties, I will know you have stolen my idea."
"But I'm just waiting for my kid. [mental note: steal his idea]"

After reading Anthony Cartouche's excellent post on an overlooked rock album that you all should own (and you should), I decided - eventually, as it were - to follow Homer's lead and do a similar write-up myself, in order to help fill the void weighing down the listening public's tortured soul. Of course, if you hate anything remotely resembling metal and prefer a poppier strain, keep the devil horns in your pocket and check out one of the other fine blogs on the list to your right. For the rest of you thrilled or merely curious, read on...

Lost in the thunderous stampede of the reformation of the infamous Mayhem, the proliferation of the Gothenburg sound spearheaded by such acts as Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates and In Flames and the ridiculous din of a disgraceful Republican witch hunt against President Bill Clinton was a strange album saturated with the graceful, dark air of ghosts, family secrets, unrequited love and Victorian murder, all swathed in a thunderstorm of electric guitar, moody interludes and heard by no one save a few lucky souls in the colonies and a clutch of punters lost in the fog of Merrie Ole England, Thine's A Town Like This.

With firm roots in a metal/heavy rock soil, lush with angular riffs and the deeply felt, willowy purples of an organic keyboard, the album's eight tracks transport the listener to a world not so much overtly Gothic in a black-clad, chain-rattling kind of way, but merely tenebrous, where things are only hinted at, the occasional shadowy surprise lurking within its complex dynamics. The rich, baritone vocals of Alan Gaunt are a welcome departure from the parade of howling furies and well-endowed sirens that generally populate the darker strains of heavy music and perfectly accompany the varied guitarwork of Paul Groundwell. This Town and Feathers & Roses, both hovering around the 8-minute mark, set the scene with tales of haunted angels and cold paranoia set upon a bedrock of undulating chords. Not so much progressive as simply parts-conscious, this jagged, schizophrenic atmosphere of tragedy and frustration resonates in the shadow of our lost dreams staring back at us.

My Song is a grand departure, its jazzy, rhythmic drumwork fleshed out with light, eerie guitar lines and tinkling piano keys that speak of "the grandfather clock, tick tocking in the corner of the room," the abode of "the lonely souls who frequent their phantasmic havens amongst rodent ridden homes," an illusory version, perhaps, of Walpole's Strawberry Hill, well-worn, cobwebbed, vacant for so many years.

The ghost of Miss Grey fills this dim chamber, an uptempo riff announcing her arrival before slowing down into melancholy, imploring her to "regress to that vague play," to shirk the stain of emotion, forsake the abode of the living and meet her "grave, new home for bleak days," finishing with a lamenting flourish as the notes disappear one-by-one in the dusty air.

The rusted blade of fate will Re-animate the Masque, where the sparse melody of light and dark, good and evil, the spectres on the walls of our heart, torments us before the rhythmic ocean swells throw us upon the shore to mine a rich vein of heavy chords, forming a series of rolling, turbulent riffs before giving way at last to a spiraling, ethereal interlude that morphs into the drawn-out denouement. That legacy of light and dark is best displayed in Here Tonight, a lovelorn soul trapped in the monotonous caravan of days, a slow 1-2-3-4 on the drums where lilting strings "kissed her so soft" before the flesh is introduced to a splash of crimson and the reemerging static of an old Victrola.

La comedie humaine "breaks into homes, charms untamed images," the predator and the prey, the troubadours that are the Pianomen, with their swinging, mocking rhythm that tells you what you already know but won't admit; you love the danse macabre, and we know all about your pain and failure, neglected jesters that we are. The pendulum settles as thick chords crash, permitting you to "seek out bitter excursion, welcome me in." The sardonic wrath soon shifts to a plea, "be mine for one moment, alone I am this night," as a majestic, tumbling riff fades into oblivion and silence, rudely ruptured by the quick metal assault of the Sonic Showmen, who only need a few short moments to order you to "confess to them," that they're "the secret makers of an unmade world," our town, the town of the dead which imprisons our art, our music and the dialogue between us wretched humans and the performers who have the answers we seek, but may not want to hear.

A Town Like This sounded different from everything else in 1998 and it still does today, a completely unexpected debut from a virtually unknown band that bettered nearly everything else in Satan's aural marketplace. Their 2002 followup, In Therapy, an excellent, if slightly derivative, slab of melancholia , mostly shed the dark, metallic elements for a stab at Radiohead/Blur-influenced rock, replete with shorter, less complex songs and more quotidian lyrical matter. Gaunt's range, along with the guitar sound, took an upswing, gravitating a bit too much towards Thom Yorke instead of holding onto a rarely plied style, with only the monstrous closer, Bleaker Audio, retaining a truly foreboding, despondent atmosphere.

With their as-yet-unreleased third album taking on the strains of vaporware - an underground version of Chinese Democracy, perhaps - the statements of the band that it will hearken back to the aesthetics of the debut mean less and less with each passing day. One unfortunate byproduct of their intermittent recording career was the departure of skinsman extraordinaire Dan Mullins after the recording of In Therapy. Among his many projects since has been his enlistment as the Spinal Tap-esque fifth drummer for legendary UK doomsters My Dying Bride. In the years after the release of said album, second guitarist Dylan Rhodes has left the band as well. Though teasing us longtime fans with song titles and updates of recent studiowork, I remain wary - sometimes it's a pain in the ass being cynical - and certainly hope that I won't one day be lamenting their having fallen prey at last to the cruel vagaries of the music business, as the craft that these guys displayed on the truly unique A Town Like This is more than worth revisiting.


Snave said...

Sounds like something I will see about checking into... Nice writing! I like all kinds of music, so will need to hear this.

david santos said...

Randal, Mary, Please!

Send an email to the Brazil embassy your country and report the injustice that the brazilian courts are making with this girl
Release on Flavia’s accident and status of the process.

The resignation is to stop the evolution.

Thank you

Randal Graves said...

Snave, thanks man. It's a great album, but might be out of print. The label is Peaceville out of the UK, so perhaps they have it in their online store. For 752 American dollars, no doubt!