Review Summary: Listen to "Gathering Pieces" if you don't believe me.
I haven’t yet listened to any Australian post-rock that I haven’t liked. Whether it be Because of Ghosts’ haunting The Tomorrow We Were Promised Yesterday
, any release by the earthy, organic and beautiful Dirty Three, or math/post/something-rock heroes Pivot, every release has intrigued and entertained me to some degree. Storyboard
, the 2005 release by Victoria’s This Is Your Captain Speaking, continues Australian post-rock’s impressive track record.
A storyboard is a graphic organizer such as a series of illustrations or images displayed in a sequence for the sake of pre-visualizing a large-scale visual project such as a motion picture or animation. By this definition, This Is Your Captain Speaking could not have picked a better name for their debut. Each song does not really tell an individual story or convey an individual idea so to speak, but each contributes to the skeleton of a possible story. These aren't fully fleshed out postulations, rather each song is like a different image on a storyboard. I’d like to think that a large part of what separates good post-rock bands from mediocre ones is their ability to tell a story with instruments rather than lyrics. It is a technique that I really do value in this stagnating genre.
And these guys are really
good at it.
One of the major strengths in this release is the interesting production. The entire album was recorded live in a school library, and every now and then one will hear sounds typically associated with school life, such as a child laughing, a game in the schoolyard, or the footsteps of a teacher. It is quite astonishing how much depth these sounds can add to the album. Not only does it add to the overall atmosphere of the album sonically, but it also gives one an idea of where these guys are coming from. For example, at the end “A Wave to Bridget Fondly,” overbearing and dark sounding guitar and percussion fades, making way for a melody played by a glockenspiel. This intertwines with a very similar melody played on none other than a mandolin a few intervals lower. The song ends with the sound of children squealing and laughing outside.
What really impressed me about the ending to this song is how the timbre of the two instruments as well as the way the melody is constructed actually do sound very “childish,” for want of a better word, and the samples of children playing cement this “childishness” in the listener’s mind. Was the band trying to tell a story in this song? I don’t think so. Were they trying to convey an idea or thought? Definitely.
The idea that the band is intending to personify different thoughts sonically is expressed in every song. A strong example of this is “6 pm” which opens with an nteresting percussive line that sounds like a cash register, punctuated by glockenspiel notes. Another good example, “Angels,” is much more atmospheric than any of the other tracks on the album, with liberal use of bowed guitar giving it an ethereal sound. The band even manages to sound like Do Make Say Think on the sparse, earthy sounding “Weathered.”
The highlight of the record is undoubtedly the opener, the 18-minute epic “Gathering Pieces.” It starts off with a tentative guitar line played with the odd accent here and there, lending a sporadic feel to the music. It is joined by another guitar played as a counterpoint. The opening really does sound like there are little fragments being drawn together. The first time I listened to “Gathering Pieces,” I pictured little orbs of light coming together to form a larger orb. The addition of a glockenspiel adds to this feel. 18 minutes is a long time, but the song never feels drawn out. The band manages to vary the melody and textures enough over time to keep the music interesting. There are no huge buildups with a massive climax at the end a la Godspeed You! Black Emperor, where the end is usually a louder and denser version of the original theme. “Gathering Pieces” is brilliant because the melodies are beautiful and captivating, and at the same time encapsulate what pieces coming together could sound like and manages to sound epic without the traditional (and much overused) epic climax. In the storyboard that This Is Your Captain Speaking is trying to capture with their music, they have crafted a beautiful, visceral and captivating opening scene.
There is only one problem with this album, and that is that some parts will sound like they have been done before. Certain guitar melodies or arpeggios and the occasional overuse of tremolo picking may strike up a feeling of deja vu in some cases. The percussion section could have also been a little more inventive, but these are pretty minor gripes.
I could go into detail about every song on this album, but it would take ages and, quite frankly, bore the hell out of anyone reading, but simply put, this album is a great listen. It draws you in from the opening guitar line and takes you through seven different ideas, each the part of a bigger picture. The best part of it all is since the ideas aren't focused on any one thing, the "bigger picture" can be pretty much anything you like.