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Pelican - What We All Come To Need

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Artist: Pelican

Album: What We All Come To Need

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Oct. 29, 2009

By this point in their career, Pelican have spent more time being known for playing lumbering drone-metal than they have actually playing lumbering drone-metal: as heavy instrumental acts go, they’ve never seemed like much more than a particularly satisfying one-trick pony. What We All Come To Need is their first album to refute that notion effectively, to suggest that Pelican have in fact been building outward from their doom-shrouded downtempo origins, slowly but shrewdly, and that their whole catalog bears appreciating in the context of an ongoing evolution. For that reason alone, you could call it their most successful effort yet.

For starters, What We All Come To Need neither lumbers nor drones, except arguably on the Jesu-like dirge “Final Breath.” You can still identify it as Pelican from a couple counties away — chugging guitar riffage, bullish repetition, competent drum work — but it applies the formula in slightly more adventurous ways. It’s fast — the way 2007’s City of Echoes was fast, but more integrally and less like someone accidentally flipped the 45 RPM switch. It resists the temptation to settle into a single mode, between songs and within: “Glimmer” builds up deliberately into a majestic sparkle; “Specks of Light” works its way from a swaggering post-grunge jam to a labyrinth of elegiac bridges.

These shifts can be less than convincing, but that’s the way it’s always been: Pelican are about the groove, not suspense or transition, and when they pull off a smart passageway between sections with different temperaments — or different tempos, god help them — it’s only by sheer audacity, that sense of stepping off a ledge into a chasm, that it works. (“Strung Up From The Sky” is the exception here, borrowing liberally from the tone and pacing of Russian Circles, who are in essence nothing but suspense and transition.) What We All Come To Need doesn’t do away with Pelican’s bluntness; it just provides enough structural diversity to focus on how the songs are composed, rather than how they’re played.

And even with some loose stitches between contiguous parts, the exposed songcraft leaves the album refreshingly open. Having established the hypnotic power of loud, dense guitar marches long ago, Pelican sound free enough at last to explore melodic intricacy and inventive theme-and-variation play without hewing to the old layer of protective gloom. These songs establish themselves, retract, develop, survey a little farther out the next time, and occasionally wind up in surprising places. The best part about What We All Come To Need is that it offers them up as a model for Pelican’s whole career.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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