When I began posting my favorite songs and albums of the year in early November, a friend sarcastically teased, saying that all the best albums were going to come out in the last two months of the year. While that may not have been true on the whole, it was certainly true of Pelican. Originating in Chicago, now living in Los Angeles, and recording this most recent album in Seattle, Pelican is a band that’s hard to pin down in a number of ways. First of all, from the previous statement, and their relentless tour schedule, who knows where they are at any given moment? Secondly, are they rock? Metal? Shoegaze? All of these questions are ultimately unimportant. In my six-plus years of doing this, I haven’t read too many press releases that really manage to capture a feeling of a band, but the one for What We All Come to Need nails it when it says this album is “as punishing as it is calming.”
What We All Come to Need is Pelican’s fourth album, and first for new label Southern Lord. Greg Anderson, guitarist for SunnO))), and founder of the label, makes an appearance on the crushing head-nodder, “The Creeper.” It’s the most “metal” cut on the album, awash in riff after pounding riff. Otherwise, this album is less concerned with riff than it is with brilliant song construction. While “Ephemeral” does delve into staccato riffs, it is more laudable for its languishing overlapping notes than for its speed metal pastiches. Most tracks on this album, to Pelican’s credit, transcend both the metal and the rock genres to become something `other.’ On numerous occasions, metal riffage posing as pop has broken into the mainstream simply to fade away or be mistaken for something else, given a different tag. Pelican might not break into the mainstream with What We All Come to Need, but they are writing songs better than those who have.
The latter half of the album is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. “Strung Up From the Sky” and “An Inch Above Sand” are more about catchy note progressions and melody than they are about showcasing doom and gloom guitar and bass, though the latter gets close to combining both. The band’s former label boss, Aaron Turner of Isis, shows up on the title track, a song which takes the idea of harmonic thunder even further, as celebratory as it is dark, adding a touch of hope in otherwise dreary climes. One gets the sense in listening to this track that the band might actually have more in common with Sigur Rós than Slayer.
I played a track from the album for my brother, the metal aficionado, the other day, and the track I played was “Final Breath.” Not only is it a standout track on its own merits, were it to be an instrumental, but hold onto your hats Pelican fans, it features vocals! And let me tell you, they couldn’t have picked a better match for the tone of the song than former Shiner frontman, Allen Epley. I have a feeling that most Pelican fans, upon hearing that their new album featured vocals, were at least hesitant, if not up in arms, but I hope that after hearing it, they feel the same way I do, in that this new direction is glorious.
Video: “Final Breath”