Gravenhurst The Western Lands

[Warp; 2007]

Styles: indie rock, post rock, dream pop, shoegazer
Others: Electrelane, Galaxie 500, Spain

So, it's been a couple years since my last run-in with Gravenhurst, which was admittedly my first. Fires in Distant Buildings was a stunningly dark, stormy affair that captivated me with its seething tension, causing me to peg these chaps as a post-hardcore collective with a soft spot for melody and texture. Now, with The Western Lands, their fourth release for Warp and fifth overall, I find my conception of the band coming into sharper focus. Rather than being angry noisemakers with a sensitive streak, songwriter Nick Talbot and his conspirators are really sensitive lovers of folk psychedelia with a fetish for overcast moods and the occasional rock maelstrom.

In retrospect, it's clear that I should have known this all along, for in many ways The Western Lands is a return to form. Talbot is a dark romantic who seems intent on retaining equal proportions of beauty and menace, without letting his demons really take control. Though he's willing to explain the motivations behind his cryptic and poetic lyrics, they are almost better served outside that context, where the listener can find his or her own interpretation. With that said, it is worth noting Gravenhurst's affinity for prog folk, most specifically Fairport Convention. "She Dances" was written about Fairport Convention member Sandy Denny, and "Farewell, Farewell" is an interpretation of an actual Fairport song.

The Western Lands works well as a whole and will surely please longtime fans, but I get the sense that Gravenhurst are holding back, most evident on "Hollow Men." With an unabashed rock attack, the song had me anticipating similar outbursts for the rest of the album, yet this was not the case. Although I don't claim that the disappointment of my personal expectations should be taken as a mark of failure in any way, I can't help but feel that there are some underexploited moves being left on the songwriting table. Sure, the exquisite layering and construction make this an indispensable find for those looking for a contemporary take on moody shoegazer rock, but knowing that there's more where "Hollow Men" comes from makes me hunger for the next time Gravenhurst see fit to engage their noisier tendencies.

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