Review Summary: This boring album captivates.
Why am I reviewing this? I must be some sort of a masochist, because Tunnel Blanket was easily the most frustrating album of 2011 for me, with regards to both the music itself and my perspective on it. When I discovered Young Mountain, it was the first time since The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead, Place that I had felt such a connection with a post-rock album. The music was much more simplistic than that of This Will Destroy You's contemporaries, but this only focused the atmosphere and fragility behind each note struck. This Will Destroy You's guitar-play evoked a unique vulnerability. Like a damaged child silently enduring, Young Mountain pleaded for your empathy. Fast-forward to 2011 and this child has grown up, and is ready to fight back. It's angry.
At least that's what "Little Smoke" would lead you to believe. From its humble beginnings, this song swells into a ferocious beast, unlike anything from the band prior. Sure, This Will Destroy You have always played around with quiet-loud dynamics, but those aspects, in my opinion, were always a weak aside to the more minimalist moments. Little Smoke goes all-out angry, the instruments literally screaming with rage. But it's still slow, and like most of the album, not all that interesting. At least, not at first.
If you have yet to hear this album, and especially if you're a fan of This Will Destroy You's previous work, be warned -- it is void of all immediacy, and likely is nothing of what you expect. Gone are the guitar-based melodies that first branded these Austin boys as Explosions in the Sky imitators. In fact, gone are the melodies entirely. Most of the 'songs' on Tunnel Blanket are comprised of very dark drones swelling and blending into similarly dark drones, some louder than others. With the exception of some plodding drums, and a comparatively uptempo fifth track, this is just about all that you should anticipate.
Upon first listen, I denounced Tunnel Blanket as purely dull and not worthy of attention. By my fourth experience with the album, this opinion hadn't changed. But I kept listening. Maybe my inherent fandom of the band made me feel indebted such that I kept on trying. Whatever it was, I've been compelled to listen, and ever since its release, the Blanket has unfolded to reveal a wonderfully introspective series of soundscapes. Other than to use words like 'dark' and 'drone', it is all but impossible to describe Tunnel Blanket's sound to the uninitiated. So I should let the music do the talking and simply recommend this album to anyone with an open mind and a quiet time to spare.
Tunnel Blanket is very much the definition of a grower, and it is worth the excessive time that might be needed to finally appreciate its beauty. Played from headphones in a dark room, this music gets in your head and invades your semi-conscious mind. The more you listen to this album, the more you begin to notice its ambient nuances, and the more enveloped you become in its darkness.