Review Summary: A haunt of a jaunt
After the dissolution of his brooding and innovative Slint, hardly a soul was astonished when the godfather of post-rock created The For Carnation out of its ashes. While the next magnum opus contained traces of the tense and disturbing Spiderland
, McMahan and Co.’s work in The For Carnation eclipsed their previous efforts in a very mysterious way. The magic of Slint remained, but with a vicissitude and energy all its own. How could a group of musicians capture the sensation of being followed, the enigma of a shadowy lucid dream, or the tension in the unseen cracks of urban structures? The For Carnation compels the listener to close their blinds and write letters to deceased friends. In their conclusive and final self-titled album, Brian McMahan demonstrates the visceral power of words left unsaid. This LP is a place you have been to before - almost like a ghastly case of déja vu. And despite the urge to leave, you are obligated to stay and forever forced to return.
Trying to throw The For Carnation into the bursting-at-its-seams basket of post-rock would be quite the tragedy. This band encompasses an entirely fresh ambiance and mood, one that is distinctly different from most of the genre. While comparisons to Slint or Shipping News seem somewhat accurate, The For Carnation is able to capture a wholly new and unmarked cryptic sound that Slint flirted with. The For Carnation was simply another creative outlet for McMahan and the band to continue releasing their twisted brand of independent rock.
The For Carnation
makes itself very distinguishable from others in the vein of slowcore and post-rock with its wide instrumentation, incorporating keyboards, strings, synths, congas, and bells. Suspenseful strings, as in the song “Emp. Man’s Blues”, accentuate McMahan’s hushed vocals. In “Being Held”, bells (or synth) aid the song to its climax. All throughout the album, synth-like glitches and subtle sonic alterations punctuate the tracks, which only serve to make each subsequent listen more rewarding than the last. It would be inadequate not to mention the startling ambiance created by spacey echoes and dreamy guitar tones; The For Carnation have mastered an entirely unique soundscape, one that I have yet to hear on any other LP. However, the album is not all doom-and-gloom, with some insanely addictive guitar riffs - particularly on the tracks “Emp. Man’s Blues”, “Tales (Live from the Crypt)”, and “Moonbeams”.
McMahan is spot on with his vocal delivery on this LP. Whereas he may screech out his lyrics in various Slint material, this self-titled is completely distinct with McMahan vocalizing in a very subdued and ominous fashion. We even get to hear him enter in an almost sing-song voice in “Tales (Live from the Crypt)”. Just as in Slint, his vocals only serve to heighten the drama and impact of the actual music itself. Tender female vocals enter the fray and sing in a duet with McMahan on the sparse, faintly jazzy track “Snoother” (and a sneaky inclusion of Kim Deal in "Tales (Live from the Crypt)"). The lyrics are thoroughly melancholic and often find McMahan narrating relationships and sentimental troubles in a poetic mode.
Yet The For Carnation
does have its faults. Some may find the songs formulaic, with a mere build-up leading to absolutely nothing. This complaint is a valid one, as most of the songs do accumulate in tenseness and simply end before a desirable climax. “Being Held” is perhaps most guilty in this respect. This track, exceeding five minutes, starts off with a droning bell-like sound eventually accompanied by a soft drum beat and culminates in a heavier drum beat. The track has no vocals, and is evidently the worst song on the LP. In opposition to an inclination for a solid climax, many will find that the haunting atmosphere and musicianship are more than enough to satisfy.
Any fan of Slint - or post-rock/slowcore for that matter - will be impressed with The For Carnation
. McMahan's new five-piece ultimately picks up where Slint left off, creating a beautifully sinister and dark piece of work that will leave the listener wondering why they ever broke up in the first place.