Friday, August 25, 2006

Pelican Reviews

Pelican - AustralasiaCD
Originally Posted on Panel-House: November 2003

With, “Australasia”, the Chicagoan instrumental quartet known as Pelican build upon the monolithic sound of their untitled debut. "Nightendday" opens the disc with an anthemic wall of low-tuned guitar chords and pounding percussion; a sound that evokes the image of some unnamed lethargic beast crossing a primitive landscape in the twilight of its genesis. This is quite a feat for a band that has chosen a stripped down arrangement of two guitars, a bass and a drum kit rather than taking part in the orchestral indulgences that have become a trademark of the cinematic/sound-scape rock clique. Whereas many of these problematically dubbed “post-rock” bands play at being the soundtrack to a civilization in decline, Pelican’s mixture of huge guitars, powerful rhythms, and subtle shifts in time and melody is both triumphant and mysterious; the theme for landmasses in development.

“Drought” begins with a low rumble of arcane feedback that is quickly flattened by the hypnotic weight of Pelican’s deliberate gait. The power is in the slow precise pacing, reminiscent of the song “Mammoth” from their debut cd (See review: "Pelican - Untitled CD EP" 4/29/03). However, “Drought” makes a deeper exploration of the sonic terrain moving between quicker rolling, metallic passages and slower double-bass driven breakdowns.

The vague doom of “Drought” then subsides for the hopeful and yearning tone of “Angel Tears”. This piece is melodic with a tinge of the melancholic but the delivery is marked with the same power and precision of the previous tracks. At 10:59 this is one of the longer pieces on the disc and through a manipulation of nuance that mimics the shifting of tectonic plates, Pelican slowly leads us back to darker waters.

The greatest surprise on the album is the the untitled fifth track. Layers of acoustic guitars plaintively pluck a progression that is somehow eery yet inviting. What sounds like a theremin laces a spacey melody over the top and an arrangement of chordal baritone brass (most likely trombones and tubas) is introduced, filling the lower registers with a dreamy warmth.

As a unified work this cd is a triumph and the logical progression from their debut. They explore some new ground while staying true to the blueprint of cinematic heaviness that fostered Pelican’s inception.

Pelican - Untitled CD EP
Originally Posted on Panel-House: April 2003

Recently signed to Hydrahead Industries, Chicago’s instrumental doomcore quartet, Pelican, are quickly gaining some well deserved attention. This four song demo cd has just been re-released on Hydrahead without any alterations. They weren’t necessary; a testament to the poise and proficiency with which Pelican executed the composing and performing of these four songs. Pelican’s sound is big, rich and lush. The guitars (tuned down to B) are thick and heavy but not wanting in clarity. The 5 string bass work is tasteful, tight, and never tries to assert itself over the vision of the music as a whole. The drumming is equally tight and as anyone who has seen Pelican live will tell you, is played on an enormous kit with two bass drums and a healthy array of cymbals. The double bass never gets out of hand and is used as an intensity heightening effect rather than a tool for gratuitous bombardment.
"Pulse", the opening track, invites the listener in with a triumphant cadence that gradually builds as the ornamental cymbal crashes build into a slow, deliberate, driving rhythm. The subtle dynamics and fanfare-like melody bring to mind Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s, "The Gathering Storm", but Pelican gets to the point much quicker. As soon as "Pulse" has lured the listener in, "Mammoth" encases them in a low-tuned avalanche of thunderous behemoth footsteps. They stick with a formula similar to the opening piece, manipulating the nuances of one or two repetitious themes, but this time with much more abrasion and lead thick palm muting from the two guitarists. Delayed harmonics from Trevor de Brauw add a touch of the ethereal but never too much, saving the piece from becoming spacey or adding too much air to Pelican’s intentionally dense sound.

We are then introduced with a short burst of sonorous feedback to "Forecast For Today", which continues much in the same vein of the drudging, "Mammoth", but with a slight increase in meter and dynamic intensity. The bass and drums guide the group through the song’s changes with metronome efficiency. After four and a half minutes of building, varying, and augmenting three distinct themes, the beat drops out and the guitarists introduce a more open and haunting melody. The drums and bass steadily build their way back in as the guitar parts continue searching for new levels of intensity. Pelican never let their crescendos get too manic and this one soon reaches its climax as the rhythm breaks down into a hard, crashing, moderate tempo.

The disc closes with the nearly thirteen minute long epic, "The Woods". The piece opens with some lighter and creepier guitar interplay. Slight variations in kick drum placement enhance the rhythmically shifting guitars to create a disturbing setting. It doesn’t take long for crashing percussion and heavy guitars to take over and begin flirting with refinement and madness as stirring melodies and dramatic dynamics take turns intriguing the listener. After a series of rising and falling action, a final haunting theme is introduced. The beat stomps along in Pelican’s usual pounding yet paced manner, as a tasteful and melodically chilling guitar solo creeps in, takes over, and then disappears into the burgeoning net of distortion and noise. The guitar melodies are overcome by feedback and begin to drop out leaving the bass and drums to finish and fade. During the past few months Pelican have been closing most of their shows with "The Woods", which as hard as it may be to believe for those who have only heard the recording, is even more intense live.

Written by Jonathan Glover
NOTE: Found more music materials, Jonathan Glover was my roommate in 2003 and is now finishing his Masters at UCF Orlando. Jon is also the main musician behind Ars Phoenix.

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