Gravenhurst - Fires In Distant Buildings
It really pisses me off when scores of blogs and dozens of reviews, all gushing in their praise, are written about a mediocre release by an average band whose super-inflated ego has far outstripped their mediocre talent and long-gone originality. It pisses me off even more when genuinely original, quality music is overlooked or paid some scant attention because some hipster(s) with influence with the sheep-like masses have either decided it is not meeting their definition of cool or have not paid any attention to it.
In short, I hate it when people overlook Gravenhurst and get all orgasmic about Radiohead.
I guess Gravenhurst isn't mainstream enough for some people, hence the comparative neglect. Not that, as I can understand, Gravenhurst is for everybody. And if your first introduction to this band is Fires in Distant Buildings then you could be forgiven for turning away. Nick Talbot, the multi-talented instrumentalist (Thom Yorke take note) behind Gravenhurst is not an artist who is going to shy away from the controversial. I would not say that Fires in Distant Buildings is a concept album by any means, but there is a distinct theme running through it, and that theme is a morbid fascination with macabre, violent, often watery death.
On first listen you may feel that Talbot has found a song which is aimed straight at the radio. "The Velvet Cell" is a solid guitar-driven track with a catchy hook, but first impressions can be wrong. Listen closely and you will hear that it is about violence and murder. And just as you were getting comfortable with it, it stops, and ends in a completely different musical structure. And just in case you missed it, there is a reprise two songs later which strips the first of its lyrics and refrain and, although it is longer than the first outing of the original melody, does nothing to convince me that including reprises on albums is lazy and somehow deceitful. The album's low point.
The album opens with "Down River". The sound may be reminiscent of English folk ballads but what is actually down river, floating down river in fact, is a body. This imagery continues, after "The Velvet Cell" with "Animals" when Talbot not only sees his body in the river after a walk, but wonders who his killer is and what he is doing right now. After three songs about dead bodies in a row, you might be ready for a bit of lighter subject matter. "Nicole", however, does not really provide it, for this song deals with what is clearly a dysfunctional, maybe even dispassionate relationship.
Skipping quickly over the reprise, Gravenhurst returns to the theme of watery graves, this time of a whole city. "Cities Beneath the Sea" combines a stereo-typically English folk guitar with an intense, droning organ as if to emphasise the fact that the city has been drowned out by the sea, while the lyrics lament the passing:
"In deserted towns and burial mounds / There is beauty that no-one will see."
The album ends with two of its strongest songs. Clocking in at twenty minutes between them, they offer a combination of emotional depth and musical creativity. Sprawling and at times seemingly uncontrollable dark, psychedelic folk music breaks out into distorted electric feedback instrumental sections which bridge the gap between shoegaze and post-rock. And you have to wait until the end for the best, a reworking of the Kinks' "See My Friends" which demonstrates what can happen when a jangly sixties pop song is given a contemporary transformation by a band with some real talent instead of multitude of fanboys who wouldn't know talent if it jumped out of their computer screen and bit them. Fires in Distant Buildings may not be to everyone's taste. Some may find it too depressing. But if you are one of those who think that music begins and ends with Radiohead, you may want to check this out. It might change your entire perspective for the better.
User Reviews and CommentsLog In or Register to Rate Albums
Tell us why this album is great or sucks ass, or correct the reviewer. If you write enough quality reviews you may find yourself on the editorial staff.
Reviews have to be over 100 words, shorter ones are classed as comments.