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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Cerberus Shoal - 'Homb' (Temporary Residence Limited)

Oh, how do we even begin the Cerberus Shoal story? Like so many others, these guys began as a post-hardcore/emo sort of thing, with their early records drawing comparison to Still Life and bands like that. Now, I'm not really an expert in such matters and when it comes to the Shoal, my entry point is here on Homb, which is 1998. And even still, this sounds remarkably post-rock influenced, and somewhat, well, pedestrian compared to the total melted Americana mindfuck I saw around, hmmmm, let's say '99 or 2000. So I picked up Homb which is basically what was available at the time, and had pretty much the same core members, and found something a lot closer to the Tortoise/Slint sound (which is no shock for 1998). Now, I don't mean to come down too hard on Homb (and I say this as someone who likes Tortoise and Slint) -- the strong rhythmic underpinnings on this disc are what ties it to the post-rock tradition, and it's these strong rhythms that were phased out later, or maybe they just became more fluid. Good times are everywhere on these long jammy tunes. 'Omphalos' is like Slint's 'Washer' overlaid with pitch pipes, drones, and a nice oceanic drift. But it has a hell of a drum sound that anchors it, even when it slows down a bit and tries to open up. It's the opening track, really, 'Harvest', that is the most atmospheric, but I fear it's meant just as an introduction. Reeds and breaths are all over Homb, at times veering into Windham Hill territory (nothing wrong with that either!), and there's a ton of instruments listed in the liner notes, mostly Art Ensemble kinda shit I think, but it's too hard for me to actually read the cursive so I don't really know. The last 2/3 of the album is a 3-part suite called 'Myrrh' which is a pretty huge construction, I guess. The first part, 'waft', is where we hear lots of wooden blocks and whistles and things like that, with more deep breathy new agey wooden flutes and whatnot. Vocals eventually come in, and they're slow, deeply intoned, and nothing like you'd expect from ex-emo kids. The intervals are minor and uneven, and it has a bit of overall wow and flutter that gives it a nice instability. The production, by the way, is really, really good here - clearly the product of Maine's finest recording studios, and call me a spoilsport, but I wish it was a bit more lo-fi! It slowly melts into part two, 'loop', the loop of which seems to be a 3-note bassline which drives the tune, but not without some variation. Over this, reverb-laden flutes (or flute-like things), guttural moans, and arpeggiated guitars noodle around. It's not really spacey or exploratory (by which I mean it's nothing like Hawkwind) but seems more concerned with keeping the atmosphere burning bright. Sometimes the band kicks it up a notch, but then they pull back soon after. There is also heavy use of flanger in this track. It pounds along for ten minutes, eventually climaxing in a mess of horns, and then we're left with decaying breezes. I'm not sure where I've actually been taken to, though. And then 'Myrrh (reprise)' which is the epic instrumental piece at the end, which I just sat through and enjoyed, but I don't know if I have the ability to write much about it. There's a thick, big band sound and tons of instruments, lots of rock gestures (loud chord changes, roto toms and all that) though I wouldn't call it that. I'm tired by the end of it, and this is just the intro into a Cerberus Shoal mini-gauntlet - only 3 discs, but they feel long. Time hasn't been as kind to Homb as it should have; I think my own biases against production techniques are interfering with my appreciation of the musical construction. I think I like my weird coastal soundscapes to be lo-fi and scrappy, or maybe I just had a prejudice against people who can actually play the drums.

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