Review Summary: the bassist is kinda cute
2008 has been a relatively empty year in rock music for me. The year started out promising and has delivered plenty of satisfying albums, but ultimately very little has stuck in the truest sense. The nature of the underground scene right now is so blurred with gene-hopping and mishmashes of styles that little is truly shocking anymore, at least to these ears. The artistic relevance of works like Kayo Dot’s Blue Lambency Downward
(especially since anything on that album had long been predicted by New York avant garde and chamber rock artists since the 70s) is almost completely null and void under its aspiration towards spectacle rather than honesty, and that’s a problem. It seems like everyone’s just trying to outdo everyone else, and god damn it, if I have to hear about another of these nu-weird-folk-indie-rock hybrids again, I’ll gag. Let’s face it; while inventive and unique music is being released on a regular basis, 2008’s vanguard musicians are simply out of touch with the times.
Enter the first important and relevant rock album of the year: Snowman’s The Horse, the Rat and the Swan
. Indeed, this is a band so in touch with our times, it’ll force most people to turn away in discomfort. It’s a record in touch with its own absurdity and so soaked in existential postmodernism that it almost never even escapes the pull of the very black hole it’s spawned from. Luckily for us, it does, and for that fact alone we should be grateful.
The music is constantly shifting and filled to the brim with invention. Whether stomping through ethereal chants backed by colossal drums, dissonant piano and mind-warping guitar; or pile-driving through sections of haphazard post-(insert genre here) lunacy, the sense of paranoia is palpable, like wading through delicious maple syrup. At first the violence of the band’s outbursts can seem too volatile, like a rehash of Nomeansno’s finer moments, especially given the brash opening moments of the record; but after hearing them weave themselves into the masterplan of the album, everything coalesces into one big brew of subconscious dissolution.
In terms of describing the sound, you know the drill by now. This is a band equally informed by ambient, punk, no-wave, post-rock, 60s psychedelic, Eastern drone, shoegazing, blah blah blah. But it’s not simply another flavor-of-the-month addition to the genre melting pot game; this is the real deal. The atmosphere is one of genuine vision. Interesting is the diversity of the band’s lineup. Despite being from Australia, the members’ historical ties link to Indonesia, UK, Italy and Iceland.
The final three tracks tie the whole thing together, giving a sense of purpose to all the raucous, jarring fun that came before it. As epic a suite as I can recall in recent memory, the ghostly, repetitive chanting of “let her go” on “She is Turning Into You,” paves the way for the Godspeed You! Black Emperor-droning-strings-styled explosion on “The Horse (Parts 1 and 2),” which in turn sets the stage for an amorphous, reverb-drenched launch into outer space on closer “Diamond Wounds.”