Review Summary: More weight.
In the book that accompanies Giles Corey
, Dan Barrett makes an interesting point. Giles Corey had the choice between being hanged and being crushed to death by stones, and he chose to be crushed. “He made them murder him. He made it ugly.” Being hanged is ugly as well, but it's at least quick provided nothing goes wrong, and relatively neat unless the body is left on display afterward. With the Giles Corey
project, Barrett chose both. The book is like being hung at the gallows, a relatively neat package that can be read in an hour or less, capable of stirring ugly thoughts but only if you dwell on it for too long. And at the end, there is hope, or if not hope, at least acceptance that as long as you aren't dead, life is going to proceed. Relatively neat, you see. Not strictly an ideal outlook, but good enough.
the album takes more of an influence from Giles Corey the historical figure (although the book is named after him, he is only mentioned at the end; however, it is the book's most important section). It works almost in reverse. The first song is arguably the heaviest tonally and also the most interesting as it pertains to the cause of the project as a whole. While the entire album contains samples of EVP recordings, etc., it is “The Haunting Presence” that contains a snippet of Barrett's own recording, purportedly containing a whole bunch of noise that was made while he was unconscious for an hour. It's disconcerting enough without having read the book, but I was admittedly hesitant to listen to the track again after reading it, even if I am skeptical of the veracity of Barrett's claim. The “reverse-crush” effect is quite fitting; if we assume the album starts at the height of Barrett's depression and ends at the cessation, then the extremely discomfiting nature of “The Haunting Presence” makes sense and cements its place as the most suffocating track on the album.
As the record goes on, things lighten up as much as they can for such a bleak project. From the book, we can gather that Barrett is able to recognize beauty in despair and the album shows that. The mid-section of “Spectral Bride” is uncommonly jaunty, “Grave Filled With Books” has a gorgeous conclusion, and “No One Is Ever Going To Want Me”, despite its name and lyrics, is incredibly catchy, especially for the last minute when Barrett repeats, “I want to feel like I feel when I'm asleep.” Barrett's overdubbed vocals are somewhat predictable given the subject matter, but the sheer eeriness of his ghostly droning justifies them (the man really does have a beautiful voice). By book's end, Barrett has conquered his depression at least for the time being, but closer “Buried Above The Ground” hints otherwise, at least at first. Upon subsequent listens, it has a sort of rebellious nature about it, something in the way the horn section, although slightly dissonant, dominates the song as if to respond to Barrett's devils by daring them to bring it on.
Barrett's oft-quoted description of the project is “acoustic music from the end of the Industrial Revolution.” It evokes the era perfectly, sounding at once both like progress and regression, of knowledge and superstition, helping and hindering. For all the changes made to the world around us there are still innate things in humans that will cause us to harm ourselves and to hold ourselves back from our true potential. The best thing about Giles Corey
is that it all seems okay almost in spite of itself, that for all Barrett's attempts to make us inhabit his desolate soundscape, goodness shines through in brief flashes and its light is visible if only for a moment.