Review Summary: The most frightening thing about a fire is location. This is listening to it dance in and out of control.
You don't have to walk down the block very far in order to find a morbid person nowadays. In a hypothetical world of 90% sunshine, the 10%'ers will be the ones shaking your hand. There then come those kinds of characters that need a fantasy world to use as storage for all of their dark and ghastly thoughts. Some men were just born into having too much grief for their own good and a place to let these thoughts take form and act naturally becomes necessary. Nick Talbot calls his Gravenhurst. Based on the name, you've assumed a fair share of this project's aspects pretty accurately. It's a sad, gloomy, sometimes safe place to be. A place where you purposely miss a cab on a cold rainy night so you can adjudicate it as the world tantalizing you. What could you expect from a guy who enjoys reading books on serial killers far more than any sane-loving citizen should admit? The truth of the matter is that Nick Talbot is a regular guy, polite and warm, who allows himself to befriend agony to 'transcend' the pains of his life (his former bandmate being killed in a motorcycle accident to name one) through music.
Knowing that misery is no stranger (hinting back at Talbot's acoustic dark-folk EPs) it's safe to predict what temperature these waters take in Fires In Distant Buildings
. What's different this time is the addition of alarming sound effects he places in his songs to disturb the otherwise mellow texture. Contrasting his past and future is like first watching a bootleg movie on an iPod Nano and then seeing the same movie in your surround-sounded home theater. This time, you can hear every crinkle the leaves make as the nervous victim wanders through the midnight woods; you start to hear the grimy, moody guitar sliding in "Down River". Something's going to happen, you can just sense it (a common anticipation in the songs of Gravenhurst). If it's been quiet, it's been quiet too long. Talbot's voice enters as an abandoned ghost and after listening hopefully, the victim realizes what's lurking at the end: "You're no friend of mine/So I play your game/Like cornered prey/I play for time/And quietly."
After about four and a half minutes of torture and suspense, that dreadful hand comes out from behind the tree in the form of a heavy outro and twisted sounds laugh away.
Once the caliginous voices disappear, we're left with the anxious drive of "Velvet Cell". Its sound is immensely relieving with a more definite beat, with a more definite path. Two paths, to be exact. It's like one of those 'choose your own ending' books. The first time you're walking down a city street, Talbot accompanies you with his always-soft, windy words describing the velvet cell -or, the evil within man: "I had always thought/The desire to kill was a disease you caught/But it’s dormant in the hearts of everyone..."
The music feels tainted, but you feel optimistic for the near-future... until the streetlights die out one by one and more eerily, the wind gives up its advances at knocking down buildings. You turned to the wrong page. You turned down the wrong block and you're left in the dark near a house you don't trust as the music slugs from friend to foe.
TURN TO PAGE 24, however:
The reprise guides you. You're faster than the dying streetlights and you keep your pace until you make it home fine.
If you're looking for uplifting lyrics, disappointment will serve you justice for looking for them in a project called Gravenhurst. "Take me to the river/I want to feel the water/Closing in and helpless as you’re pushing my head under,"
the somber singer begs in the hopeless "Animals". As depressing the words can be, they often contain strong imagery.
If you're going to make an audio storage of all threatening emotions you keep, you'll inevitably run into love. This is what Talbot expresses through his gracious acoustic track acoustic "Nicole", and even in the innocently curious choruses of "Cities Beneath the Sea", which first begins with a forewarning tone. Hints of beautiful substances scattered throughout a reasonably somber project can certainly be more copious than delivering them by the boatload.
The track that really suggests Talbot's change apart from his past works is his take on The Kinks' "See My Friends". Calling it a cover would be misleading. It's more so a renovation that guides the light-on-its-feet pop song into a subdued post-rock movement.
Fires In Distant Buildings
is an interesting peek inside the containment center of Talbot's fantastical home of horrors. Arranged with cues of screeching sounds borrowed from horror flicks, black-ambient guitar work and formidable organs, this is surely an album done with delicacy and direction. Tablot learns how to create more expansive atmosphere in his sinister songs while at the same time feeling solidifying his art more successfully than past attempts. Even though it might not explode with a 'bang', the saying holds true that a 'pop' may be the second loudest sound in the world when you're expecting a 'click'.