Burning Off Impurities



by 204409 EMERITUS
April 9th, 2007 | 26 replies

Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Instead of concise post-rock gems, Grails expands into world-infused jams. The result is lackluster, excepting some moments of interesting experimentation. Beware of the hamhanded Middle Eastern influences, too.

My experience with Grails' last proper LP Red Light has been an interesting one. At first I rejected its use of folk sounds and unexpected modes, but then after hearing them employed well in the middle stretch of the album, I was won over. It wasn't that the modal choices in the middle were better or anything, it's just that the middle few songs are written so transcendently well, that their modalities are rendered all the more wonderful and memorable. I really liked how on select songs Grails were less of a post-rock band, striving to produce epic, building crescendos, and more of a songwriter's wet dream; the song structure was non-repeating, with each section being memorable on its own, all while contributing to the arc of the song as a whole. On those songs, they owned their craft, which in turn prevented their odd dabblings in modes and folk music from owning them.

The story behind Burning Off Impurities, unfortunately, seems to be the opposite. Gone are the wonderful non-repeating and serendipitously unpredictable songs of Red Light, and in its place are extensive, world-infused jams. Here, the odd dabblings take over. Firstly, the song structures can be very frustrating. The songs all evolve in a more archetypal post-rock fashion. Themes are introduced early on in a calm and reserved fashion, all in order to slowly evolve amongst the growing textures and dynamics. I'll concede: that's pretty cool. Part of post-rock's allure is such a design, but after all of the epic, grandiose post-rock that has been established in the past 10 years. It would be nice to hear more of the variety and ingenuity found on Red Light. Burning Off Impurities seems to fulfill the declaration of its title; its overall structure is a reversion to the post-rock of old.

However, this seeming backtracking is convoluted by Grails' fondness of interesting modes and folk sounds. On Red Light, the main folk influences came from the North American and British Isles tradition. The more incongruous sounds on the album were either rustic and American or jaunty and Irish. Here, from the first track in fact, we are introduced to sounds from farther East. Grails seems to be engaging in some old-fashioned chinoiserie, but favoring Indian drone sounds, Middle Eastern augmented seconds, and a variety of Eastern sounding textures and tones. The result is that the post-rock epics are rendered into psychedelic jams that borrow more from a Beatlesque obsession with Ravi Shankar's music than the grandiose post-rock stylings of label-mates Explosions in the Sky. To some, this may be immediately appealing, but I feel it comes at the sacrifice of the wonderful songwriting that let Grails linger with me. It's much harder to grasp killer moments in the smudge of Eastern sounds spread across 8-minute tracks. There are some, especially on the awesome "Origin-Ing," but overall, the drones and sitar sounds wear thin as they burn off into kitsch on "Silk Road" whose generic Middle Eastern scales sound out of place in a gauche Westernized fashion. It's like watching Aladdin or eating bad kebabs.

There are positives to this album though. With a more eclectic scope comes some really interesting sounds. I like the drones throughout the album as they don't cloy as much as the fake sitars. Overall, there are more instruments, more textures, more tonalities. There are just more sounds, if that makes sense. And while sometimes all of these cooks do spoil the broth, at least the album benefits from being a trip around the world. It's adventurous and explores new soundscapes and I do have respect for that. Another positive is the production. To balance all of these sounds requires some incredible engineering, and that's present on this album. If some of the songs aren't memorable at least some of the crazy sounds are. Another aspect I liked were the shorter songs that tended to be influenced by industrial and electronic music a little bit. "More Extinction" and "Drawn Curtains," have purposefully electronic beats amongst all of the natural instrumentation, which provides a really great contrast. Hearing a violin and acoustic guitar against a thudding, melted industrial beat is really interesting and successful. Also, on those shorter songs there seems to be a reliance on the concise songwriting of their Red Light style, which I've gushed over enough now.

Overall, though the album as a whole fails to impress me at the level Red Light did, there are some really interesting additions. While those additions may not be favorable or well balanced in the case of the Middle Eastern influences, at least Grails are expanding their boundaries. Maybe their next album will produce a cogent union of all of the genres and cultures they like to borrow from.

Recommended Tracks: "More Extinction," "Drawn Curtains," and "Origin-lng"

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user ratings (95)

Comments:Add a Comment 
April 10th 2007


Sounds at least interesting. I'll take your advice and go for Red Light. review es muy bien.

April 10th 2007


I have a grails album that's pretty good but I doubt I'll be getting more

April 10th 2007


Good review, but I don't agree. I think this album is great, and it's a good thing they're moving more away from the post-rock clich├ęs. My only problem with this album is that it could be a bit more varied, but I don't mind it that much.

April 11th 2007


Album Rating: 2.5

Hey LFO96, you crazy man. How is making songs longer and more theme-and-variations-based less post-rock? That's the linchpin of the whole genre. Their older songs had more divergent qualities I thought.

April 11th 2007


I meant melodically seen. The structure of the songs has gotten more post-rock though, indeed. Maybe it's just a fact that I haven't heard that much post-rock that sounds like this, but I find it to be rather refreshing. The only band I know that sounds comparable is Apse, but their music is less well executed.

April 14th 2007


Nice review, you've inspired me to memorize the guitar patterns for modes and to check out the Red Light

August 7th 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

I like this album a lot but I like Black Tar Prophecies a bit more. my opinion differs a bit obviously since i rated it higher. This band does a lot for me. I like the experimental ambiance and the heavier moments. It is a great album to chill to and absorb. I liked your review, and highly understand why this band isnt for everyone.

July 18th 2010


this is strangely enticing.

you are right potato

July 18th 2010


You seem to like good music, what's more stuff like Trap Them? I need to delve more into Cursed I know

October 13th 2010


Album Rating: 3.5

I've always thought this was a very enjoyable album. Can't see the 2.5 in it.

February 22nd 2011


grails are a unique band .hoping the new album is good

March 28th 2013


Album Rating: 5.0


May 2nd 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

2010 potsy was so polite. I think it was his unbridled love for trap them

August 21st 2013


Album Rating: 4.5

you say you heard one album before Red Light but the point here is their this expansion into the

Mediterranean Eastern feel is the ample providing that opened the minds to experimentation aspect of

life in music one is always stopped or over looked when there is something new and intuitive creating

this is that music that just simply sparks the hidden person the soul arises out of sheer music you

become one with this growth...

hopefully you have something like otherwise where is this living taking us all ?

March 27th 2014


Album Rating: 4.5

It is really hard for me to see how this could be seen as a 2.5. Especially with songs like Silk Rd, which I might even consider to be one of my favorite songs ever. Emil Amos is just such an outstanding drummer, powerful dynamics, with outstanding precision and control.

Contributing Reviewer
December 20th 2016


Album Rating: 4.5

Nice review but dont agree with the rating all. Grails are an unique band, and this album is solid proof.

Digging: Jaga Jazzist - Pyramid

February 25th 2017


Yikes, this review is a train wreck:

"The result is that the post-rock epics are rendered into psychedelic jams that borrow more from a Beatlesque obsession with Ravi Shankar's music than the grandiose post-rock stylings of label-mates Explosions in the Sky."

Yeah, about the last thing anyone wants (but you, seemingly) is more trite, boring as fuck EITS sounding bands. This album has virtually nothing to do with post rock and is all the better for it. Reviewing it based on what it's not is just weak. After BTP 1, 2 and 3, this album really cemented them as a genuinely innovative band. At the time, this was a complete breath of fresh air and if anything, sounds even better now.

Contributing Reviewer
October 22nd 2017


Album Rating: 4.5

Yes, that paragraph is just all over the place. How can this be considered as average is just nuts.

December 7th 2017


Album Rating: 4.5

maybe I'm just high but this is one of the greatest albums I've ever heard.

Digging: Molchat Doma - Etazhi

Contributing Reviewer
December 7th 2017


Album Rating: 4.5

You are absolutely right and I shall bump my rating.

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