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Past Lives - Tapestry of Webs

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Artist: Past Lives

Album: Tapestry of Webs

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Review date: Mar. 19, 2010

The now-defunct Seattle band Blood Brothers welded a devil-may-care glam-rock sensibility to frenetic, at times brutal hardcore. While that sound has found plenty of takers in the years since the first few Blood Brothers albums saw release, it’s hard to underplay just how disconcerting a listen said albums provided. It’s difficult to discuss Past Lives without referencing their predecessor — three of Past Lives’ four members spent time in Blood Brothers, and (as with fellow alumni Jaguar Love) their previous band set the bar pretty high for both innovation and excitement.

Past Lives’ debut EP Strange Symmetry was solid but not stunning. Its members’ histories were audible in the songwriting, but toned-down somewhat. Tapestry of Webs is a different creature. Jordan Billie’s vocals can still process a scream as well as anyone, but there’s a newfound fondness for melody audible in these songs. When melodies do crop up, however, it’s less likely to inspire bliss than to accentuate the ominous mood sustained over these dozen songs. There’s a post-punk minimalism and a no-wave crash-and-burn spirit on display here.

The album’s opener “Paralyzer” sets the paranoid mood from the outset. Over slow-building music, Billie sings about a woman — assumably, the paralyzer of the title — in an increasingly ominous manner. And yet for all the fear he squeezes out of the line “She came out of nowhere”, it seems more and more likely that the song’s real topic is male sexual anxiety — a song less about paralyzer than paralyzed.

Elsewhere, Tapestry of Webs borrows a mutant-jazz sound from 1980 New York. The guitar on “Falling Spikes” evokes the blare of a saxophone; later on the album, the hum of reed and brass open the manic “K Hole” and accentuate the austere, atmospheric “At Rest.” And while “Hospital White” is neatly frenetic, the trio of songs that follow it to close out the album — “At Rest,” “Aerosol Bouquet,” and “There Is a Light So Bright It Blinds” — suggest that the band’s understanding of quieter dynamics is as well-formed as their ability to tear through anthemic punk.

Even at their most subdued, Past Lives never loses its knack for the unsettling. “There Is a Light…” closes the album with restraint, Billie almost crooning. You could call it blissful, except for the awareness of what that light might bring.

By Tobias Carroll

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