Sunday, December 23, 2007

PELICAN — CITY OF ECHOES

PELICAN — CITY OF ECHOES

I'm not sure I read any review on Pitchfork that was more incongruous with the actual listening experience than the one of City of Echoes. While I've seen plenty of writing suffer from unresolved daddy issues, this may have been the first I've ever seen suffer from unresolved 'drummer issues'. The whole thing reads like a 1000-word rant of misdirected anger toward a drummer who never showed up to the writer's little league games. Now, I was never a music studies major, but it always seems strange to see someone focus so much energy on what they wished a performer did instead of engage the work that was actually done. It's hard to ignore the irony there, isn't it?

So what did Pelican do? Well, they went into their post-rock metal attic and tossed out all the stuff that made them seem a little less distinct from their peers. Since the beginning, Pelican differentiated themselves from predecessors Neurosis and Isis by dipensing with vocals. They further distinguished themselves by shedding some of their more metallic features. The last thing to go was length. All but one song is under 7 minutes long (and that one track is only seven seconds under). Another song is just over six minutes long. Most fall in the 5-minute range, and one is under 4. What Pelican have nearly transformed themselves into is a rock band. And not just any sort of rock band, but a triumphant, almost boisterous rock band. Queen replacing cheese with density.

And the whole thing IS dense. Four distinct instrumentalists each seem to be struggling with each other, afraid to find themselves in the same mental space at the same time for too long. Rather than a strict rhythm section, the drums and bass seem to be vying for leads with the dueling guitar parts. Sometimes, this can lead to incongruities in the music itself (not so much between changes). At times the drums are bouncing (like in the bridge of Dead Between Walls) while archepegios play against sludgey, tuned-down guitar and bass, but this doesn't betray the natural development of the music so much as betray the listener's expectations. It's a curveball that demands continued attention just when you might be inclined to subsume yourself in a predictable flow. It's soundtrack music that refuses to be in the background.

Is it sometimes a little sloppy? Yes. Is it sometimes almost a little too demanding of the listener's attention? Yes. There are times when you just want to get caught up in a thing, especially a thing as much fun as this, but Pelican won't let you. Part of the reason for that is that there are just so many damn changes happening in such a short period of time. But those changes never feel forced or completely left-field. Instead, they seem like slalom races when most people might be trained into expecting recreational downhill.

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