Grails Take Refuge in Clean Living

[Important; 2008]

Styles: instrumental rock with Oriental folk inflections and other weird stuff thrown in
Others: Six Organs of Admittance, OM, Faust, Can

In 2006, TMT’s redoubtable P Funk characterized Grails as “striving for new maps of everything,” and I think, two years later, it remains an apt description of this quartet’s mission. A map can serve as a guide for travelers, a concise reflection of political and cultural agendas, and as an aesthetic object. A map of the “foreign” says just as much about its drafters as it does about the exotic territory it purports to depict. The map-like songs on Take Refuge in Clean Living comprise both an entertaining rock record and an intriguing sketch of current indie proclivities.

The record opens with one of my favorite songs of the year, “Stoned at the Taj Again,” a seven-minute conflagration that leaves its influences smoldering and naked as it blackens its grooves with forest-floor sludge. Oriental musics, doom metal, post rock, and industrial electro all coagulate and dissolve within the song’s emblematic seven minutes. It opens with Morse code chirps, accrues weight and grandeur through a grotty jam sequence, then fully ignites in a final passage where the guitar yields to mournful surges of distorted bass. “PTSD” is more reflective, a subtly produced nod to Faust that incorporates crickets, chemically serene synths, and more Eastern embroidery. Like mystic doom duo OM, Grails evoke vast, religious themes with the hypnotic persistence of their rhythm section and their melodic glances Eastward.

The contradiction between the titles of the album’s first and last songs ("Stoned at the Taj Again" and "Clean Living," respectively), the kitschy cover art, and over-the-top touches -- like the church organ solo of “Take Refuge” -- give the impression that these fellows are giving each other elbows in the ribs as they crouch piously on their kneelers. However, despite these dashes of camp, their brawny, fuzz-wrapped rites suggest a desire to retrace the contours of an ambitiously diverse range of territories. I suspect that many an indie kid will take refuge in the complexities of this lysergic atlas. Sometimes venturing abroad is the best way of finding home.

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