HiM Peoples

[Bubble Core; 2006]

Styles: globetrotting post-rock
Others: Can, Fela Kuti, nudge, Gang Gang Dance, Animal Collective, Tortoise

Peoples presents some real difficulties to a critic just beginning to explore what 'rockism' may mean, and how it impacts his listening, writing, and selection of music. I find the songwriting enchanting, but this seems like a band that is concerned with more than sheer musicality. Is Peoples a well-crafted challenge to my preconceptions about band identity and rock expressionism, or is it a misguided attempt at making rock something universal, something that merits a title like Peoples? Or both? These remain unresolved questions, and despite my inclination to break out theoretical tools to analyze Peoples, I find myself returning to descriptions of a personal listening experience, one admittedly conditioned by a long tutelage in rockist approach and taste.

With that cumbersome disclaimer, I'll say that I find this music quite lovely. Yet, I've withheld my highest marks.

Listening, I feel like I'm walking through one of those immaculate topiary mazes on a gorgeous day — it's possible to be surprised and even pleasantly bewildered while passing through, but I'm never truly afraid of being lost in it. Although brimming with talent and ideas, the band rarely emotes — they engineer. They don't play — they perform. The results are often breathtaking in both concept and execution, and the detail of the recordings rewards intent listening, but I still leave the tenth track without experiencing that escape from myself that comes when I feel that an artist has truly emptied herself during the production of a work.

This is a record that unfolds itself over weeks, not minutes.

Rhythms pinched from Jamaica and Nigeria frame evanescent, falsetto coos and cyclical, post-rock guitar lines. With a panoply of instruments coming and going throughout these songs, it's ultimately the guitars that determine their emotional timbre (at least to my American ears). It often feels as if they identify notes, instead of expressing them, but even as I critique their apparent passivity, I recognize that those same guitar lines frequently spiral and flash like pinwheels. You can dizzy yourself trying to follow a single point around and around the mix, or just watch the whole thing spin as HiM play with rhythmic textures and disintegrate verse-verse-chorus monotony.

They rub sounds against each other, sometimes as gently as lotion on skin, elsewhere scraping out some shy sparks with more metallic friction. The real magic of "What's Up Tonight" lies not in its panned, elusive vocals (though they are bewitching), but in the tension between its galvanizing bass line and the mellow organ tones that flower and dissolve above it. Subtle background conflicts like this one intrigue me, but after awhile, I long for the wheels to come off. I want rusty axle-on-asphalt grind, with sparks and petrol and screaming. It happens on "in these times," and it's blissful. After splattery bursts of Afrobeat brass, the guitars sulk and glower and howl, snarling with overdrive. No longer slipping across each other and prettily coagulating, like raindrops on windowpanes, they gnash and wander, like ravenous animals. The band is at its most exuberant here, and I think a similar infusion of energy in already inventive compositions like "robber's knot" and "shuddered" would elevate them from great to stunning.

Anytime a band sends me into one of these ambivalent spirals of admiration and frustration, I'm a fan. I hope the verve and imagination in Peoples inspires as intense a reaction from you.

1. This We Know
2. Robber's Knot
3.What's Up Tonight
4. Shuddered
5. Universe Peoples
6. Pecadled As True
7. How You Buy Fiore
8. As We Were Onve
9. In These Times
10. Silent Life, The

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