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Grails - Red Light

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Artist: Grails

Album: Red Light

Label: Neurot

Review date: Jan. 3, 2005

Last year’s The Burden of Hope, the first full-length from the instrumental quintet Grails, was a wonderful surprise. These alums of Harbor, Laurel Canyon and Jackie-O Motherfucker, among others – guitarist Alex Hall, percussionist Emil Amos, violinist Timothy Horner, guitarist Zak Riles, and pianist/bassist William Slater – avail themselves of all the possibilities afforded by their instrumentation to create a grainy, atmospheric sound that conjures up a fascinatingly graceful sound that is moody and dark, but also surprisingly lyrical. I likened the effect of their hypnotic music – with its combination of fragility and intensity – to that of a dream you can’t shake upon awakening.

We’re back in the dreamworld again on Red Light, and the hypnotic effect of Grails' songs remains powerful. They explore different feels here than on their debut, most notably a broadened range of rhythmic materials (as on insistent, relatively uptempo tracks like “High & Low” or “Fevers”). The music still impresses with its elegance (the gorgeous closer “Word Made Flesh”), its fluidity, and its restraint (all these competent players, and no silly showboating). Instead of pyrotechnics, Grails favor drama, tension and release. They are, after all, storytellers - interpreters - evoking familiar idiomatic materials and instrumental voices only to toy with them or submerge them in the overall wash of sound. As quickly as Horner and the guitarists might establish thematic material, Amos pulls away by suspending the pulse. Or, when roles are reversed and the rhythm grows insistent, Horner in particular impulsively stirs up a fine mess of trouble. This combination of familiarity and unpredictability is warm and winning.

Yes, people will continue to compare them to Dirty Three, Godspeed, Mogwai and others. But I still hear a band of ragtag improvisers, engaged in a heavy channeling of Americana that fuses Henry Flynt or Tony Conrad with the smoldering remains of Black Sabbath (and indeed, Grails have submitted a track for an upcoming Sabbath tribute on Temporary Residence). Who can’t dig that?

By Jason Bivins

Other Reviews of Grails

The Burden of Hope

Burning Off Impurities

Take Refuge in Clean Living

Doomsdayer’s Holiday

Deep Politics

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View all articles by Jason Bivins

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