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Grails - Burning Off Impurities

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Artist: Grails

Album: Burning Off Impurities

Label: Temporary Residence

Review date: May. 3, 2007

Portland, Oregon-based quartet Grails made an unexpected left turn in 2005, using their entry in Southern Records’ Latitudes Series as an excuse to explore a track each from Flower Travellin’ Band, Gong, and the Byrds. Up until that point, the group’s volatile chemistry had yielded a couple of somewhat decent full-lengths for the Neurot label before co-founding violinist Timothy Horner drifted away and, one would assume, took the awkward pseudo-Celtic influence that had permeated the band’s early recordings with him.

A watershed moment if ever there was one, the Interpretations EP heralded a newfound focus on global psych, one that bore sweet fruits on the consistently excellent Black Tar Prophecies series that Important collected and reissued in 2006. Those records delved deeper into worldwide manifestations of consciousness expansion, mixing grim guitar epics with a loose-bashed rhythm section and a dub-worthy ability to negotiate space. All that considered, the release of Burning Off Impurities, the band’s first record for Brooklyn’s Temporary Residence label, sounds less like a third long-player from a Grails that’s been around since 1999, and more like the fully formed and realized debut of a newly rejiggered, remarkably repurposed foursome that’s trimmed a whole lot of dead weight in a purposeful march towards distant horizons that began just two years ago.

The advent of cheap reproduction technology in addition to a greater ease in global communication has yielded an outgrowth of shadowy, fly-by-website bootleg labels who’ve turned psych reissues from a hobby for the devoted into a minor cottage industry. No surprise, then, that there are ample nods tossed throughout Burning Off Impurities to the likes of Turkey’s Edip Akbayram and Erkin Koray and that same Flower Travellin’ Band. Readily accessibly needle-drop reissues have transformed once mythic records into file-sharing fodder, becoming yet another ingredient to add in the morass of current guitar-centric, outward-bound rock.

And although Grails display a consistent mastery of this constantly evolving lexicon throughout the entirety of the album, their truest strength comes from their ability to fully understand the context of those same discs in 2007. The static that inaugurates the bottom-heavy thump of “More Extinction” and its near-funk reinterpretation of Goblin is just one example; check the awkwardly tweaked hits of “Drawn Curtains” for more proof. Herein lies the trick, as Grails known enough about their source material to understand that the crackle and phased percussion come part and parcel with modern discoveries of lost Turkish psych jammers and Kraut sides that, up until his championing on Head Heritage, only Julian Cope knew anything about.

Which is not to suggest that Burning Off Impurities is mere commentary. The monstrous “Silk Rd” builds from dark folk whisper to a towering inferno, aided in no small part by foreboding drones and drums that break in and out of time with the greatest of ease. “Origin-ing,” likewise, paints the walls with sheets of black fuzz and tar drenched string cascade, limber percussion forcefully hacking away as a curious harmonica ushers in the few moments of calm that only break with the following title track’s pummeling climax.

Make no mistake – Grails aren’t re-inventing the wheel here at all. But as it stands, they’re one of the few current bands of their kind to truly understand how to make that sucker spin hard. Easily delivering on the hefty promises of Black Tar Prophecies, Grails' latest release is truly something unforeseen and thoroughly special.

By Michael Crumsho

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Take Refuge in Clean Living

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