HRSTA Ghosts Will Come And Kiss Our Eyes

[Constellation; 2007]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: instrumental rock, psych-folk
Others: A Silver Mt. Zion, Set Fire To Flames

Instrumental music has such potential that it often suffers from it. Lyrics, for better and for worse, characterize and locate music, give it a human face and therefore human failings as well. There is an inherently limiting quality about lyrics, and lyrical music is always more limited than instrumental music. This distinction is reflected in popular themes as well; oftentimes, acts dealing in instrumentals use the textual components available to them (e.g., song titles, album art, etc.) to imply the vastness of nature, the alienation of modernity, and dreams of expanding consciousness (to pick a few conspicuous clichés) rather than the personal and political exchanges that constitute the usual fixations of songwriters. The textual blankness of instrumental music is alluring. One immediate upshot of this blankness is an aesthetic purity free of other considerations, and this is one of the very qualities that sabotages instrumental genres, transforming innovative music into a dated wallpaper pattern, or tying it irrevocably to the ambiance of coffee shops, upscale bars, telephone queues and elevators – places where such impersonality is preferred.

HRSTA is the brainchild of Mike Moya, guitarist and former member of established instrumental rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and their latest offering has all of the trappings of his former’s genre. For example, the title Ghosts Will Come and Kiss Our Eyes is exactly the sort of long-winded evocation typical of bands dealing in that spacious architecture. Naturally, the introductory track is a faintly European-inflected dirge shared by an accordion and a noodly bit of guitar that pushes close to sounding like some kind of analog noisemaker. From here, however, things get slightly more verbal, beginning with the vocal semi-coherencies of “Beau Village” and becoming fully semantic on “The Orchard” – which for its dour character has a surprisingly catchy chorus. Many of the album’s components are instrumental or mostly instrumental, and generally these strengthen the narrative rather than dilute it, a feat of implication that betrays a lot of experience at this sort of thing. “Tomorrow Winter Comes” is appropriately chilly and static, and “Hechicero Del Bosque” is a minor masterpiece of production, assembling woozy slide guitar with washes of pump organ and vocals, and bringing it all together in a kinetic clatter.

Things do, however, peter out at the end. “Saturn of Chagrin,” with its soundtracky piano and wailing background noise, comes the closest to sounding like moody wallpaper or like something that could be played on loop in some banal context, whereas by the time it appears near the end of the record, “Kotori” simply reiterates something established previously. Elsewhere, HRSTA end the album with a cover of The Bee Gees’ “Holiday” that, while it fits acceptably with the record’s stately aesthetic, manages to come off a bit self-conscious. It is an unfortunate way to end such an imaginative hallucination – this is a record that deserves to end with its own statement of purpose, not somebody else’s.

Criticism aside, HRSTA are following a compelling muse. Far from the vague banalities that plague instrumental genres, this record’s indistinctness radiates substantiality. By submitting to being characterized and located through lyrics, HRSTA avoid the damning kind of location that sneaks up on more purely aesthetic music and fixes it in time and place. And if the choice songs here are taken as any indication, perhaps Moya would consider singing even more on future outings.

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