Imbibed from the dark lip of divine quasi-metal deliverance, Doomsdayer’s Holiday, the latest from Portland ‘s Grails, is a portentous brew, heady with intoxicating textures that spilleth over. The band’s unique approach to instrumental rock—which meanders ever so slightly toward faint, sun streaked horizons—relies on few of the conventions shared by their contemporaries. Where Mogwai or Explosions In The Sky opt for quiet/loud dynamics and rely considerably on carefully crafted crescendos, Grails seem to cast their compositions onto a gently flowing breeze, set adrift without effort, though far from aimless.
Middle Eastern riffs and raga-like flourishes populate the exotic landscapes often evoked by their worldly emanations. To see the band pictured in front of the gate to Portland’s Chinatown in press photos seems appropriate; Eastern influences are palpable on much of their past releases, as they are again in this, the band’s fifth full-length in as many years. Holiday conjures the dusty wisp of a wayward caravan, trailing intrigue through remote desert outposts ancient as civilization itself. Yet even for all its foreign “otherness,” the album functions firmly on Grails’ turf, an aesthetic familiar to the band as their own artistically eccentric hometown.
Alex Hall and Zak Riles spin labyrinthine guitars between hypnotic lulls on “Predestination Blues.” Sharp acoustic tones carve the echoing vacuity of “The Natural Man,” illumining a rush of flutes and barely audible trumpet tones that tout from the distance, like peering through the smoky haze of a dimly lit opium den. Drummer Emil Amos (and recent addition to the other half of Om) punctuates precise rhythms in free jazz fashion, methodic for all the rumbling madness that surrounds it. Compositions swell with the salty urgency of the sea, roiling often into strange dissonance, as on vaguely experimental “Immediate Mate,” only to be drawn back to the shore by a persistent bass line.
Throughout Holiday, Grails showcase not only instrumental versatility (the indistinct string intro of raucous “Reincarnation Blues”), but an expansive breadth of stylistic competence. True to the apocalyptic suggestiveness of its title, opener and title track “Doomsdayer’s Holiday ” melds faux-metal menace with heavy posturing. “X Contaminations” seethes murky drones, eventually giving rise to a tinny tambourine that trickles through misty tones. Dark Side dead ringer “Acid Rain” makes a compelling case for the continued existence of meaningful psychedelia, an eight-minute, stargazing coda with eyes trained far beyond the city lights.
The Alps – III
Explosions In The Sky – Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever
Red Sparowes – At The Soundless Dawn