I was determined to write a review of Gregor Samsa’s Rest in the first half of the day, before lunch, which is the usual habit. Something kept me from it, however. I couldn’t quite get the words out. There was always something else to do. But, after an entirely unplanned three-hour nap, I felt rejuvenated, invigorated, or at least panicked enough that I had lost an entire three hours, and the words began to come. So too did Gregor Samsa, the band, arise after a short respite. For them, it was only a year’s span between albums, the music business equivalent of three hours. Appropriately, they named their album Rest. The resulting album is a heavenly mix of international post-rock, overseas shoegazer and homegrown rock sensibility, though with much more of a classical bent than before. In other words, Gregor Samsa, after this particular Rest, has become anything but a `monstrous vermin.’
“The Adolescent,” which could or could not be a Dostoevsky reference, opens Rest like a lullaby. The song is deeply rooted in piano and vibraphone, gently gliding along with whispered female vocals. Those simple piano notes become a bit more complicated in follower “Ain Leuh.” Classical glissandos of piano are joined by muted rhythmic drums, vibraphones and weeping strings. In fact, most of the songs where a guitar might have been used find themselves with piano replacement. Despite the fact that the vocals of married couple Champ Bennett and Nikki King are discernible, there are certainly similarities to Sigur Rós. The music of both bands seem rooted in the same instruments, coming from a place of primitivism and ending in a place of harmonious intensity.
Over the years, Gregor Samsa has had a rotating cast of musicians that total somewhere near the 30 mark. On this effort, there are 12 total Gregors (though I think only seven are official), and they all somehow contributed their bits to the music through email between various U.S. cities. According to some, Rest is far less `indie rock’ and far more stretched out than on their previous releases. This is evident in the glorious single “Jeroen Van Aken,” the eight-minute centerpiece of the album. Despite the title’s reference to the birth name of Hieronymus Bosch, this song is a far cry from the apocalyptic art he created. King and Bennett sing beautifully together, especially in their repeated lines, “It seems the devil’s got a grip on me,” but if that’s the sound of the devil, may I be damned forever. Somewhere near halfway through, the song changes from delicate lullaby into a building Godspeed-like dirge, escalating slowly, though never quite crossing a line of abandon. This kind of restraint is characteristic of Rest, and is simply dazzling. It’s as if the band is showing you the beauty of the world for the first time, keeping all of the evil of that same world temporarily at bay.
It seems as if only “First Mile, Last Mile” contains any kind of cathartic release from the sprawling beauty that precedes it. The song, the second to last, is awash in electric guitar that seems hell bent on jarring the senses after this `rest.’ Otherwise, most of Rest is the perfect soundtrack for a pastoral documentary, or perhaps even an underwater odyssey. The white noise background of closer “Du Meine Leise” somewhat mimics the acoustics of a below-sea-level excursion. The wonder of Rest is in the spaces in between notes, the languorous quality of the songs, the confidence in allowing the listener to stretch out and take it all in, and the dual vocal whisperings of its leaders. Rest is an album for the ages, one that I imagine could be played ten to a hundred years from now and still retain its beauty and power.
Low- Things We Lost in the Fire
Sigur Rós- Von
Mogwai- Young Team