Review Summary: Once again reinventing themselves, Giant Squid dive even deeper into their seemingly-bottomless musical vision.
Giant Squid are a slippery bunch. They began as an indie-rock outfit with Monster in the Creek, hit us with the contemplative, doomy Metridium Fields, and then threw the playbook out the window on their wonderfully bizarre follow-up, The Ichthyologist. Attempting to pin Giant Squid’s sound down is an exercise in futility, but much like their namesake, it’s generally dark, massive, and mysterious. In crafting The Ichthyologist, Giant Squid gallivanted about between genres that should never have worked together: swamp-rock tinged revenge tale “Dead Man Slough” led into the morbid, bluesy rocker “Throwing A Donner Party at Sea”, followed by the half-dirge, half-duet “Sevengill”, which in turn gave way to the heartbreaking and dissonant “Mormon Island”, composed entirely of banjo, strings, and Jackie Perez Gratz’s haunting voice. And you know what? The result was one of the most interesting and refreshing albums of the year. Sure, it was a lot to digest. Maybe “Sutterville”, with its stop-start rhythm and crazy jazz chords, took a while to warm up to. But what The Ichthyologist lacked in accessibility, it made up for with near-infinite replay value. So what does a band do for an encore after it’s already pulled out all the creative stops?
Cenotes sees Giant Squid returning somewhat to their circa-2006 sound – except his time, they’re armed with a whole new array of weapons. Opener “Tongue Stones” starts with a dissonant, churning riff courtesy of Jackie Perez-Gratz’ electric cello, before being joined by a ridiculously low jangling guitar line. While the sludgy melodies of Cenotes are more out of the Metridium Fields mold than their last album, there’s definitely a renewed overall focus. Where Metridium saw the band occasionally wander off course with unnecessarily long jam sessions, Cenotes trims the jetsam to a compact 35 minutes of impressively consistent songwriting. There’s a distinctly linear approach to the first half of the album, as the first two tracks run mostly through-composed for more than 17 minutes. It’s a pretty massive slab of benthic sludge to start the album, and definitely takes about half a dozen listens to, ahem, sink in. Fortunately, Giant Squid are able to keep things interesting by stringing together several massive headbanging-worthy riffs along the way, while strategically allowing you to surface for air with calmer interludes.
True to the band’s word, Cenotes often features a distinctly Middle-eastern sound. Eight-note scales and diminished chords run amok on “Figura Serpentinata,” which, at four minutes, is by far the album’s shortest track. The disparate vocal styles of Gratz and Aaron Gregory are better integrated here than on The Ichthyologist, and the songs benefit greatly from it. Indeed, Gregory actually sings most of his lines (often nearly intelligibly) and his improved performance helps make Cenotes a more seamless listen than its predecessor. “Snakehead” stands out as the best example of Giant Squid’s newfound coherence, as it builds from an urgent shuffle to a ramming-speed rocker, albeit one with deceptively graceful vocal interplay. The titular track wraps Cenotes up in style, combining the thunder of “Snakehead” in its first half with a more contemplative outro that ends the album on an ominous note.
Giant Squid have always been an enigmatic group, and with Cenotes, their reputation for crafting thoughtful and exciting music is secure. In what might be their finest moment yet, Cenotes sees the band enhancing their trademark sound with new influences and diverse instrumentation. If it wasn’t already clear that Giant Squid are due for bigger and better things, then Cenotes is another emphatic step in the right direction.
I guess I'll chime in, since so many heated opinions are being given about what and who we sound like or don't. I think the point of our band is, with out trying, we really don't sound like anyone else. Yet, every band is influenced by someone. Considering our cellist, Jackie Perez Gratz, played all of the cello on Asunder's final album, played cello on a couple Neurosis albums, wrote and performed the entire first track of the last Agalloch record, as well as dozens of others, it's not a stretch to say at moments our band sounds similar to moments of those bands. It is a stretch to say we sound like Cattle Decapitation or Ludicra just because Jackie played on their record. But, slow, plodding, down-tuned stuff? C'mon.
Our current producer, Matt Bayles, also recorded the most iconic albums by both Mastodon and ISIS, so again, there is a similarity in sound and feel at times with them as well. Would ISIS or Neurosis ever want to sing like we do, or have songs like "Sutterville" and "Emerald Bay" on their albums? Hell no. Doesn't mean we all aren't kindred musical spirits. It's still apples and oranges at the end of the day though, not apples and pecans. Don't get so fucking worked up about shit. Wizard's comment - "Don't breath Neurosis' name in the same sentence" bullshit is hilarious. As Pedro pointed out, Billy Anderson recorded Enemy of the Sun and Through Silver (as well as Asunder, Ludicra, and Cattle Decapitation) and he also recorded both versions of Metridium Fields, our first record. And as mentioned before, Jackie played cello on Sovereign AND Times of Grace AND Steve Von Till's solo projects, as well as being the second most important member of Amber Asylum, Neurosis's sister band on Neurot and Relapse, for over ten years. So to Wizard and Relinquished, please... maybe some of YOU GUYS need to do your research before shouting off. If you don't like us, cool! Join the club that literally has millions of members. But don't get so damn worked up over petty details and comparisons that actually aren't so far of base if you take your blinders off.
Thank you Alex (or Pedro?) for the defense and support.