Review Summary: An album recommended for old and new fans of post rock, as it has an accessible quality that makes it easy to get into and is challenging, though occasionally can be a bit too weighty or boring.
Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella The Metamorphosis
is a bizarre story, dealing with a strange fear of waking up in the body of another. In this case, the main character of the story, Gregor Samsa, wakes up as “monstrous vermin”, or (it is strongly suggested) a cockroach or like-bodied insect. Gregor’s family reacts in terror and fright, locking him in his room and leaving his sister to feed, comfort, and take care of him, outside of his door. Over time, Gregor’s strange and grotesque transformation causes his entire family to feel dissimilar and distant from him, even disgusted, even to the point of his own father assaulting him with apples, one of which is stuck into his back, causing an infection. In the end, due to financial crisis in the family, Gregor becomes a sheer struggle, whether in moments of love or hatred, or in the overwhelmingly freakish, somewhat fantastic, transformation itself. As his sister plays violin for him one day, he emerges from his room and is faced with the family’s pure indifference. His final moments are spent lying in his room, alone, having given up entirely, wishing the world to be rid of this creature, as he believes that the true Gregor has left the world long ago.
Gregor Samsa is the name that a certain Richmond, Virgina band decided to adopt, and its not hard to see why. The band’s music, rooted in post-rock yet also very influenced by the shoegaze and slowcore genres, is sad, atmospheric, and desolate, yet it can’t help but have a small sense of innocence or playfulness, even quirkiness, which can connect to Kafka’s short story’s themes and moods themselves. Their third release and first full length, 55:12
, is an album that fogs up around you, creating an atmosphere that is bleak, desperate, and innocent, often all at the same time.
The band walk a fine line between gorgeous, murky ambiance and the more traditional modern post rock approach of volume swells and climaxes, which results in a sound that doesn’t necessarily take sides, but takes cues from both, sometimes at the same time. The album highlight “Even Numbers” is an example of perfectly balancing atmosphere and force, with its subdued, cloudy guitar parts pitted against spurs of beautiful noise with violins, drums and tremoloed guitars, in a verse-chorus-verse fashion, each section more sublime and elegant than the last. Whereas “Even Numbers” and the similar “Young and Old” are exercises in what one might call standard post rock form, songs like “Loud and Clear”, “We’ll Learn That Way Forever” and the ridiculously gorgeous opener “Makeshift Shelters” are ambient, directionless pieces, with a profoundly mystic feel to them. Thankfully, when the group borders on boring, they find their guide by means of the soft, lullaby-ish vocals from Nikki King and Champ Bennett, where you can swear that they sound no more than eight years old. It’s very affective, and honestly quite charming.
The problem with 55:12
(which actually clocks in at 50 and a half minutes) is that eventually the songs begin to blur into each other, making it hard to distinguish them. Each song carries the same mood and is curtained with dreariness and soothing, innocent overtones, which can ultimately become frustrating. The band shows that for their first full length, branching out the length is not a problem, but it would be great to hear them try different things and to step outside the box. Nevertheless, 55:12
shows that they know how to dominate spacey, ethereal tones to a point of near-perfection, even if by the end the formula runs a bit thin.
Regardless, the band’s full-length debut is a sign of good things to come. Songs like the first two, “Young and Old” and “Lessening” are absolutely phenomenal and, while there’s not a bad song on the album, are the ones that you will likely return to. This is an album recommended for old and new fans of post rock, as it has an accessible quality that makes it easy to get into and is challenging, though occasionally can be a bit too weighty or boring.