In a genre like post-rock, which is chock full of super serious acts that focusing a little too much on being profound, Toronto’s Do Make Say Think have carved out a niche by being more interested in grooves and rhythm then ambience and crescendos. Especially the band’s first few releases which had more in common with dub music than epic post-rock. The repetitive grooves, jazzy percussive patterns and sonic textures presented the band as closer to a more rock inflected Tortoise then a Godspeed. However simply putting Do Make Say Think on a scale of referencing other post-rock outfits would be doing a grave injustice the originality and distinctive flare the band holds. Unlike other post-rock outfits, Do Make Say Think have been very noticeably evolving their sound. Starting with the trip-hop/dub grooves of “Highway 408 off the self-titled debut, to the epic crescendo of “When the Day Chokes the Night” off of 2000's Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord Is Dead (also my favourite album title ever ). Each new record presented a more mature and thoughtful approach to composition and song writing. Still, perhaps only the sweeping grandeur of & Yet & Yet’s “Reitschule” hinted at the major leap forward to be heard on 2003's Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn.
Even on paper, the band have obviously seemed to focus their compositional ideas more into structured pieces. The album is made up of three movements as, perhaps, guessed by the album title. Each section consists of three songs; two longer tracks book-ending a short, expressionistic interstitial. The first movement centers around sparser arrangements and heavier involvements of strings. After the experimental violin exercise of “War On Want” comes stately march of “Auberge Le Mouton Noir” which thrusts into a percussive marathon flavoured by electronic hums and a plodding bass line. This first movement is perhaps the banner of the band’s evolution from their previous work. Each piece unfurls slowly and changes subtly, as with all tracks on the album, guided by structures not simply ‘a to b’, but rather ‘a to f, to c, to d, to b, to a’. While the other two movements take on lives of their own, they both seem to follow in the footsteps of the first. Whether it be the improvisational sax to post-rock march of “Ontario Plates” on the horn-heavy second movement, or the pounding “Horns of a Rabbit” on the pulsing, electronics tinged third movement.
Not to be caught up in the semantics, this is still a living breathing album that adheres first and foremost to sound, rather than any conceptual idea. While the album may be developed into three distinct movements, the album still flows well from section to section. The pieces themselves are not restricted by a tight lock on the concept either. Ideas are taken from each movement and incorporated into each piece. The beautiful centerpiece, “Outer Inner & Secret” grows from a melting bass figure into a loud-soft series of crescendos that resolve the middle of the piece. This loud-soft dynamic washes away into a sea of martial drum beats, simple guitar lines and a gorgeous horn section. The piece fits well within the confines of the jazz inflected third movement but still borrows dynamics from both the first and third movement as well.
While the compositional progressions are the most obvious evolution in the Do Make Say Think’s sound, certain little touches become apparent with repeated listens. In particular, the band have matured their approach to musical dynamics. Whereas in earlier pieces like “End of Music” from & Yet & Yet, the band would change rhythm and direction on a dime, the pieces on Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn change slowly with greater attention to the smaller details that change the mood. Stunning opener and the highlight of highlights, “Fredericia” displays this new found attention to dynamics perfectly. As the volume knob bends the bass before chiming guitars bounce around the intro, the listener is already put into an atmospheric trance. The middle section is where the song truly takes form with an elastic bass line driving the piece from underneath of layer of synth and guitar effects. Like a conversation that turns into an argument, minor chord horns enter the fray and build until all hell breaks loose as the distorted bass roars to a climax. The song builds up a second time, pausing after another adrenaline rush, before a distorted bass slide brings the song into a joyous jam that brings the piece to a finale.
“Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!” closes the album with perhaps a glimpse of the future for Do Make Say Think. As distorted slide guitar brings an electro-acoustic intro crashing into an electronic bop before the song glides away with beautiful slide guitar and horn interplay featuring a ebullient bass groove, one can’t help but be interested in what lays a head for the band. Certainly the evolution throughout their various albums will produce high hopes for the future and one can only hope these hopes are fulfilled. Until that time though, we have Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, a flawless post-rock album that avoids the cliched trappings of the genre by remaining relevant, intelligent, beautiful and most importantly– fun.