Geeks, Poets and the Apocalypse
Animal Collective does weird; Malcolm Holcombe drawls honest; and Mogwai digs doom
But then again, Feels is only the latest offering, the byproduct of more than 10 years of constant experimentation. Animal Collective has been doing things its way since 1992, back when Bungle was still finding its strange niche, back when Mike Patton was seriously preoccupied with Faith No More. If there are any similarities between Feels and any primo geek metal album, it’s because Feels is a successful experiment. In this genre, success stories can be hard to come by. Each song has a peculiar feel, elongated and slightly deranged, sending us into a dream sequence that guides our thoughts along certain pathways, actively avoiding discord. The song “Grass” might be the most successful of these sonic landscapes. It’s synesthesia, an image of a clear, cotton-clouded sky, when the sun tickles your skin. And your eyes close, but you can’t sleep because, if you pass out, you’ll miss the good stuff.
No matter what he’s singing about, Holcombe always drives his point home. A country poet of sorts, his words are soaked in rural imagery and hung out to dry on a line of taut, matter-of-fact sentiment. On I Never Heard You Knockin’ , his latest offering released on his independent label Gypsy Eyes, most songs heave with reflection and a gospel warmth. His graveled voice is soothing, ringing with experience, not trying to sound like anything in particular.
While loads of new-school singer-songwriters capitalize on that gruff Southern theme, not a one compares to the honesty that comes natural to Holcombe. His images are impossibly vivid, soft as an old worn-out leather saddle and raw as hands blistered from clutching ancient reins. With killer one-liners like, “This town knows me like the back of your hand,” the whole album slays you with heartbreaking authenticity. But Holcombe doesn’t need to prove he’s the real thing. Anyone who’s ever seen him live already knows. Pick up the disc and see him play at WDVX’s One Vision Plaza for this Friday’s Writer’s Block, a recurring series of singer-songwriters performing for First Friday. The show is on March 3 at 6 p.m.
The mostly-instrumental Glaswegian five-piece Mogwai, on the other hand, has made a career of the crescendo; songs expand outward from an original hook that’s so addictive listeners have no choice but to get drug along for the ride. There’s a sensitivity to it; the band knows exactly how hard they can push, and when, but manipulation of the old time-space continuum is only half the thrill. A studied pastiche of ominous piano lines, effect-driven guitars and hypnotic percussion transcends usual post-rock fare, infusing it instead with a classical, almost academic sensibility. Much like sitting through a brilliant, subtle symphony, the album requires and rewards patience.
Unlike your average symphony, however, the album is really bloody loud. Steering away from the melancholic overstatements of Happy Music for Happy People (2003), Mr. Beast is stoic in its approach to emotion, spelling out its point with sheer volume rather than melodic theatricality. It’s an observer rather than a dramatist—an album that keeps tabs on impending doom from some higher-up place, studying it carefully through the telescope of reason. It’s a soundtrack for the apocalypse, which, as we all know, will proceed not in fits and starts but via one long, drawn-out swell of glory and destruction that ends, naturally, in the dark, quiet aftermath of nothingness. And that’s why there are no pop-music references in the Book of Revelations.