I’ve found myself lately gravitating more and more to music that veers more toward the atmospheric, complex and driven than precious, poppy or stylish. Sure, I can still enjoy listening to the occasional early Shins or Death Cab for Cutie track, but those records are mostly leaving me cold nowadays. Lately, I’ve been warming myself with the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Talk Talk, Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Rós and Mogwai. At the same time, I’ve always been a huge fan of folky singer / songwriters. I’ve loved everyone from Elliott Smith and Will Oldham to Patrick Park and Sufjan Stevens. So, when it was brought to my attention about three years ago that Gravenhurst was an incredible band, it didn’t really sink in until recently. The Western Lands, the new album from this Bristol band not only became an instant favorite, being a mix of traditional folk and atmospheric post-rock, it’s sending me back to explore everything they’ve done previously, and everything they’ve been influenced by.
It’s almost too easy to call Gravenhurst a mere combination of two styles. There’s far more to them than just that. There are elements of the dream pop era in the early ’90s, spaghetti western guitar, and yes, even Britpop, but none of these define Gravenhurst in the slightest. Nick Talbot writes songs that refuse to be pegged, providing a jangly guitar and soothing romantic voice for terrain that glides into the sometimes jagged and sometimes tumultuous. Opener “Saints” is an elegiac masterpiece, dreamy and just slightly bordering on post-rock explosion, but never quite crossing that line. It’s in its restraint that it finds its beauty, especially because it’s a song about romantic suicide. “She Dances,” a song about folk singer Sandy Denny, treads newer territory, almost crossing over into industrial anthemic romanticism, while “Hollow Men” delves more into the blurred lines between post-punk and Britpop with sawing guitars and crisp basslines. “Song Among the Pine” and the cover, “Farewell, Farewell” are the folkiest of the bunch, and quite stunningly beautiful in their relative simplicity.
“Trust,” about meeting an ex-lover’s ex-lover, and the title track are two highlights, both finding somewhat American / Italian influence in their Ennio Morricone, spaghetti western influences. “Trust” also reminded me of one of my favorite unsung bands of the late ’80s / early ’90s, the Ocean Blue, a band that also featured varied styles and a delicate and soothing vocal delivery. “Hourglass” is also a personal favorite; having to do with confusing people with places, while also being Talbot’s love song to London. According to Talbot, places can take on such emotional significance that they become personified. There are always those places that remind you of someone in your past, just as there are songs that do the same, and you just become overwhelmed by the experience. The song is heartbreakingly delicate and poignant. “Grand Union Canal,” a little more jazzy in nature, reminds one of the groundbreaking Talk Talk albums, while closer, “The Collector,” assumedly based on the Fowles book of the same name, about a serial killer, is just as quietly disturbing, yet elegant as the novel’s prose, then ending with a discordant and jarring electric guitar. It’s just about as beautiful and creepy as Sufjan’s “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” It’s definitely worth a listen if you’re emotionally adjusted enough.
It’s a given that sometimes music is ahead of its time, just on time, or way too late. But what’s amazing is how music can sometimes find you, the listener, at just the right time, no matter when it’s released. I’ve tried on numerous occasion to introduce friends or family to various bands, having them rejected outright, only to find that they are a favorite band of theirs much later on. I usually let it go, because that moment when the music finds them is a magical one. This has happened to me with Gravenhurst. I’ve had Flashlight Seasons for three years now, never to really have it overtake me, but now, with The Western Lands, that magical moment has occurred, and I am the better for it.
The Ocean Blue- The Ocean Blue
Hood- Outside Closer
Flying Saucer Attack- Further