Review Summary: Godspeed Ana! Never You
In the brief overview given on Ana Never's official website, it is stated that Ana Never were "shaped in a spirit of friendship and sensibility." While this is a modest aphorism at face-value, its essence is one that is familiar and capable of conjuring up a profound emotional response. Whether it be nostalgic memories of late-afternoon adventures and grass-stained knees, the foreign and ebullient rush of young love, or the grief and ensuing metaphysical growth that takes place after a tragic passing on, both "friendship" and "sensibility" are sure to be the crux of many an individual's most memorable life episodes. With "Small Years", Serbian post-rock quintet Ana Never embark upon a quest to invigorate wary ears with the aural representation of these two life archetypes.
Scenic hyperbole aside, "Small Years" is anything but small; the four presented tracks amass nearly 80 minutes of slow-burning, cinematic post-rock. The great length, while perhaps intimidating at first, is ultimately necessary, as Ana Never do a wonderful job of extrapolating each of the motifs presented in their pieces so as to magnify their effectiveness. The compositions on "Small Years" cascade like the work of an aqueous symphony, with each oceanic manifold of sound swelling and swooning before ultimately culminating in a massive tidal wave with an unreachable zenith.
The first track on the album, "Future Wife", is perhaps most fulfilling of my simile. The monolithic 26-minute track begins with roughly five minutes of violin and guitar exposition, before the ambiance is broken with a lone guitar line that inserts some discernible rhythmic structure to the piece. For the next several minutes, the piece undulates to some minor crests and troughs - the clear development of our aural narrative - before the major climax is reached around the 12-minute mark. It's at this point that throw everything that they've got at the listener dynamically, with violins and guitars filling up as much empty space as possible in a massive wall-of-sound. The final several minutes serve as the denouement, where the piece slowly backs off and briefly recapitulates the opening theme on vibraphone. If the climax halfway through the song were the hurricane, I would liken this section to the fringe of the storm: its quiet and rainy aftermath. It is a tender and sensual conclusion to an enthralling piece of music.
If any flaws could be exploited on "Small Years", its lack of originality is the only one of particular note. Ana Never have a very clear affinity for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, with the album "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven" specifically springing to mind. However, where a lot of Godspeed's most powerful moments come from their masterful use of spoken samples and the way the band's art responds to it, Ana Never manage to create an overwhelming aural aesthetic of love and longing using only the instruments they wield. If my language sounds hyperbolic and romantic, I am doing the album justice. This is not the breed of music to be broken down and analyzed for each of its derivatives, "Small Years" is clearly meant to be experienced in the full-extent of the principles of such modest traits as "friendship" or "reflection", or even "love". Given the correct parameter, "Small Years" is as enthralling as it is metaphysically grounding. Finding the ideal time to experience and appreciate it may be slightly challenging, as it certainly is an album that demands attention. However, once that window of time combines with a tender emotional state in one 75-minute niche, "Small Years" will be there, and it will not be forgotten.