Review Summary: Recalls Spiderland and Deathconsciousness in the same breath while retaining its own singular and monstrous vision. Over in about 25 minutes.
Befitting of their gloom (and ironically enough, their location), I fell in love with Black Ice
the first weekend that the sunny, heat-scorching weather Austin had been touting for weeks finally gave way to three days of typical Texas-sized bouts of downpour. The days leading up to this weekend had been particularly lovely so the surprise and enormity of Zeus’ fury kept most of us confined to our balconies, watching the grass turn to marsh. Considering the blur the last month has been, transitioning from a suburban bubble befitting of Deerhunter’s “Nothing Ever Happened” to a vibrant metropolis brimming with, you know, people
and stuff to do
, the welcome shun from the rest of the world gave the more humble of us a welcome breather.
To say that Austin-based Brother/Ghost’s debut was appropriate for the weather would be rather redundant by now, but it gives the album a proper context to work with; because, for all its trepidation, Black Ice
is never depressing. It is the sound of struggle, yes, through longing and love and war, but the end result is nothing if not uplifting. The arc begins as the title track assures us of impending enlightenment (“we’ve been drinking / the water you’ve been poisoning / we drank ourselves half to death / but now we’re listening”), and its war chant mantra hangs heavy over the succeeding tracks, giving the frustrated snarl of guitars that lead and trail “Waal” an affecting comeuppance.
The lull that bridges these segments are disquieting, hinging mainly on a sprightly xylophone melody and the hushed vocals that become characteristic of Brother/Ghost’s appealing sense of space. This is only further exemplified in the album’s centerpiece “Touch Something and Say Dead,” with a crawling drum march that pulls forth the overlying string section and pained vocals, only to break away into acoustic passages of charming simplicity and later reach a climax worthy of their post-rock roots. The second half’s quieter and more deliberately paced rhythm helps to balance out what could have been an overwhelming call-to-arms, and the musicianship on display helps to sway any doubts that the album might not recover from such front-loaded ferocity.
It is perhaps because of this second half that Black Ice
is so successful. After such a powerhouse performance, the slow upward climb in “Baby Sharks Pt. One” is deceptively dark, moving trance-like to its inevitable breakdown and opting instead to rest upon harmonic singing and jarring guitar playing. Brother/Ghost leave the heavy lifting for “Pt. Two,” which smartly plays up the most post-punk aspects of the band’s Spiderland
post-rock sensibilities and crafts a memorable little nugget of post-hardcore in the process. All at the service of getting Black Ice
to its well-deserved finale, the band finding its enlightenment and indulging in it.
The aforementioned Spiderland
plays the largest role in shaping the atmosphere here (“spider-y” is as good a description as any), but Brother/Ghost certainly have fun with their influences, extending their reach from Slint to Sunny Day Real Estate, from Earth to Mount Eerie, even so far as to recall Have a Nice Life’s Deathconsciousness
. There are moments on “Touch Something and Say Dead” that rival the whole of the Fleet Foxes debut. But never does Black Ice
sound like anything but a charmingly assured and singular piece of work, one that still resonates with the spirit one usually gets from a band whose members are still so fresh-faced and young. The kind that is so easy to relate to, to slip into, especially when the world rains large and foreboding, and we take the opportunity to watch the grass turn into marsh.