Review Summary: “I am not one and simple, but complex and many.”
Settlefish, hailing from Bologna, Italy, stuck out a little on the Deep Elm roster in their emo/post-hardcore golden days. Their debut ‘Dance a While, Upset’ fit in sonically with their labelmates but their origin and penchant for the indie, along with a slightly less mature musicianship, made it a welcome addition only to true fans of the genres on show at the time. This led to few expectations for their sophomore effort making the inventive result especially surprising.
'Kissing is Chaos' kicks off the 'Plural of the Choir' in a growing tide of Leslie rotary speakers joined by a repeating guitar strum; it's almost as if each musician was distractedly running a sound check that morphs into a disconnected, charmful jam that builds with a disorderly tension before charging into a rolling, drum-driven lament of dying love.
The evocation of bittersweet summer love, youthful liberty weighed down by a background sense of inescapable responsibility, permeates the record; in fact, the band consider the lyrics “to be intended as the five of us versus relationships”.
'Oh Well' brings them into focus just in time to act as a bridge to a highlight of the Lp, 'The Barnacle Beach' where Jonathan Clancy's voice soothes, yelps and strains over a maelstrom of often disjointed instruments; the militaristic drumming, DIY-emo guitars and highly infectious nursery rhyme chorus segues into an ambient skit before ploughing headfirst into the breakneck pace of 'It Was Bliss!' where his impassioned, cadenced shouts trail out to a smooth echoing of a fading guitar melody.
He successfully adopts his off-beat variety of styles throughout the album, alternating between accompanying the melodies of the instruments and driving up the tension, often within the same song, such as on 'The Marriage Funeral Man' where he stretches his admittedly limited vocal range, both gliding alongside muted melodies and then surging over a brooding electric storm, in both cases creating subtle shifts in the emotivity of the song with his enunciation and inflection.
'Blinded by Noise' evokes early ATD-I as it roars out of the gates with its willingly dissonant aspects and drastically changing tempos but it maintains the bands identity and variety with the use of “buckets, street signs and tubes” as instruments to drive its crescendo to the point that could finally validate all those kids dancing as if their arms and legs moved independently from their bodies.
It is small details such as this, the use of “trains sounds” or their citing the use of a “Farfisa” as an instrument (a post-war, Italian accordion producer originally known more for their electric organs rather than the domestic appliances of their pre-closure days) that add value to their intentional rough edges and render genuine the charm and smidge of irony the band inject into their brand of indie-tinged emo, often lacking in many of their counterparts.
'The Second Week Of Summer' rolls out in theme with the song's name, as close to a traditional melody as the Lp can offer along with the closing track, before the heaviest intro of 'Two Cities, Two Growths' flows into an almost Indian-tinged flow of breakbeat drumming and post-rock crescendo, Clancy's strained vocals echoing the guitar lines perfectly.
'We Please The Night, Dreams' closes our journey with a delicate, almost apologetic, melody. It then grows into a post-rock crescendo a la Mono with the aid of Jukka Reverberi's guitar of Giardini di Mirò fame and Brian Deck's (Red Red Meat) percussion.
The reference to post-rock elements do not refer to the genre per se as, rather, the rise of many songs on the album never reach a real climax in the traditional sense of the term, leaving the listener with a yearning and involvement that is highly effective. Even the interludes work to magnify this element as they rarely give the listener time to breath between one act and the next.
The almost graceful naivité with which one track merges into the next works seamlessly giving an asphyxiating element to the ride; for a ride it is – it is challenging without a tracklist to define where each track ends and the next begins – but if the listener allows themselves to be transported, the rewards are bountiful.
'The Plural of the Choir' could almost be considered the musical equivalent of a soliloquy but with several actors; it reminds me of Virginia Woolf's, 'The Waves'...the musicians 'talk' by themselves, each describing a non-vocal character that slowly takes form in the listeners mind. This gradual assembly shapes a whole that the audience get to know via an ensemble of emotions – of rage, sorrow, joy, hope, confusion and melancholy – the like of which can only be described as human.
Any album that can transmit even a part of this deserves to be listened to.