Grails, as their live performances show, are a powerfully mesmerizing group of musicians. Where other instrumental rockers are more concerned with being overwhelming, their brand of panorama is replete and intricate. They present their music as a chamber ensemble, never feeling jammy or meandering, while the moods are exotic and transporting, creating decidedly ‘other’ realms that make you feel like a stranger in your own land (assuming you don’t live in the Eastern hemisphere). The intensity of their work comes from a great deal of poise and restraint, but as is the case with Deep Politics, this tact can also come across as strangely normative.
Despite the refinement of these songs, they are (interludes aside) — like most post-rock — crescendo-based. And the crescendos on display here are oddly unsatisfying. The cleanness kind of upends the tastefully-placed squalls of feedback. The keyboards, as on Mogwai’s recent output, have a neutering effect on the otherwise visceral tempos and riffs. This effect, though, isn’t wholly unfamiliar. I’m put in mind of Popol Vuh’s score for Aguirre, where it’s like you’re hearing someone wistfully singing to something that is primal, still, and emotionless. If you accept the strangely sterile, almost geeky quality of the production on its own merits, it’s somehow workable. The music is immaculate to a fault, but within that fault is a grace that is fairly potent if you’re in the right mood.
The strongest, least pompous-sounding track on here is also the least dynamic. “Corridors of Power” doesn’t aim for that soaring, chugging thrust that the majority of the songs do on here. It stays in the murk and is more interesting for it. It’s the only thing on Deep Politics that doesn’t have that proggy sheen, and while it is fairly slight, the tune sticks out in the band’s catalogue as a fresh approach (though it might’ve fit well on their more experimental Black Tar Prophecies triptych). If you don’t mind stately, airy — almost new age — approaches to your moody post-rock, this album and most of their preceding releases would be worthwhile. Speaking for myself, I’m finding every listen a little more underwhelming than the last. There is much to admire from a compositional standpoint, but there is also something very formal and plodding about the overall feel. While this ornateness can certainly have an appeal of its own, after seeing the group in person, I know they’ve sounded bigger and better, and that sticks in my craw a bit.