Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pelican - Ataraxia/Taraxis

As usual, the latest EP from instrumental post-metal (whatever that means!) pros, Pelican, exhibits a vast harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary - making lyrics unnecessary.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I love instrumental music. I'm always excited to hear what these guys put out. In the context of instrumental rock, I never really know what to expect from them, except for one thing, of course - a departure from the constricting pretentiousness of Shred. Needless to say, I was pleased to see that I had received the promo for Ataraxia/Taraxis (Southern Lord, TBR 4/10/2012).

Immediately, the record's title interested me.

The term ataraxia is associated with Epicurean philosophy, being representative of the "highest good" or prerogative of life - more specifically, the pursuit of pleasure through a mastery of the art of rational living.  Epicurus (island of Samos, about 342 - 270 B.C.E.) was a pretty cool dude who lived on a commune that boasted a really nice garden. He preached to his followers that one could achieve happiness through a partnership of moderation of bodily activities/ pleasures and mental training. The latter is the most important, since it imparts upon the practitioner a command over everything else in the world. Well, listening to Pelican's music, which leads by this very example, I am directed to ponder this uncompromising, yet calculated, approach to life. Interesting time structures and huge, aurally auspicious harmonies dominate.

Past albums have been known to be geologically heavy, taking me on a journey through a sonic subduction zone only to erupt from the other side of the record, destroyed and scattered across my living room floor. These days, Pelican takes a different route, proving that instrumental rock doesn't have to be governed by trends or exalted expectations. Perhaps, despite all the garbage acts that perpetually circulate the airwaves (bringing modern popular music to an ebb tide of despair), Pelican has founded its own Garden of Epicurus, a sanctuary that promotes and upholds the art of rational listening.

"This is our first release built by making recordings in multiple studios (often not with one another) and compiling the results; an experiment which we think paid off quite nicely and gives some indication on possible working methods for the future," as stated on the bands website regarding the different approach taken for writing and recording Ataraxia/Taraxis.

I can appreciate the wide range of sounds and melodic themes explored, as Ataraxia/Taraxis is only an EP, pretty short in length and created by a fragmented band, no less. The sleepy opener illustrates a cleanly delivered melody that is juxtaposed atop an anxious and even slightly out-of-tune rhythm section - giving off a wavy vibe. In my imagination, this disharmonic tension is indicative of the struggle of Epicurus (or anyone) to find sanity in an otherwise insane and ever-changing world. This flawless use of texturing is exactly what I want to hear in music. So, with my ears glued to this sonic slate, I listen on in anticipation.

What ensues is classic Pelican. 'Loathe Biosas' starts off up-tempo and loud with an optimistic sounding riff that works itself out over the next several measures. The song then seamlessly shifts into a study of harmonic layering through arpeggio chord melodies, and harmonized bass parts. But, as Epicurus would've had it, they resolve the song after not too long. This is a catchy tune and it's available for streaming or download on Pelican's site. Check out the link below:

'Parasite Colony' switches gears. It is slower, reallocating one form of intensity for another as it inflicts upon me a pensive and heavyhearted, minor feel. Hands down, though, my favorite track is the last one, 'Taraxis.' It resolves the tension brought on by the dissonant motif presented in the intro track.  Instrument roles, however, have been switched. The electric guitar now whispers the gospel of sanity, driving the record home, as an acoustic guitar discordantly whines in the back seat.

Pelican breaks away from the preconceived mold into which instrumental rock has been cast, making this music a grand three dimensional venue for interpretation (as I've demonstrated), rather than just a big masturbatory guitar act centered around a few scales and a level of technical proficiency - ultimately two-dimensional. The compositional prowess allows for the creation of thick, lush soundscapes reminiscent of the organic timbre of other great bands like The Jesus Lizard and ISIS. Fads come and go, but great music lives on. As current acts like Russian Circles and Animals as Leaders continue to bore me nearly to death with their "music," I can have faith that Pelican will continue to keep me interested.


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