Tuesday, August 25, 2009

review: Firmament--Gray Young

Gray Young
Self-Released, 2009

Gray Young: "Tilling The Wind"

It's a tough battle for an instrumental band. Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky are best known for having unpronounceable Icelandic names and providing introspection to Texas high school football.

But Gray Young definitely has a model. After seeing them for the first time I walked up to bassist Dan Grinder and asked, "Do you guys like Appleseed Cast?"
"Is it that obvious?" he asked. Gray Young in their early stages sounds like early Appleseed Cast, pre-
Low Level Owl days. Both have some crazy post-emo, post-punk/math rock something or another with scattered vocals. Both know how to turn it down and turn it up. So Gray Young picks up where Appleseed Cast left off with those early albums.

They rip a new one into the post-punk instrumental, usually (notice usually) more rock and roll than Mogwai or The Album Leaf. But these are not just instrumental emo-punk songs. The opening track, "Provenance" is a progressive rock song, with more nuanced bass and percussion lines than what is typically found in a hook-dependent song. It's obvious as a trio (Chas McKeown, guitar and Jason Dopko on drums along with Grinder on bass) that they have spent some time crafting their approach.

The band eventually settles on some wide-open dazed tracks that Explosions in The Sky are best known for, especially with a song like "Firmament" that rocks back and forth between an eerie guitar and high tinny cymbals before an all-out blast bringing the band back to some of their post-punk mindset.

Gray Young's own voice, so to speak, becomes most obvious in the song "Tilling the Wind," a track I've heard them play live several times that is more lighthearted than their other fare, but seems to capture the spirit of the band best. There's the steady guitar opener with the same few chords being played while Chas sings. Finally, the drums bring in a steady beat before Chas turns and launches into a bridge. It is arranged more like a typical rock song (not a bad thing), with its own defining edge. For the chorus, the band lets the music have the stage and the melody for this song is excellent. More stuff like this provides Gray Young with a calling card. The song is remembered for the music and is not just defined by the words that go along with them.
Though close to 4 minutes, "Tilling The Wind" seems too short; as if they only wanted to stun, not completely shock.

Another track, "Across the Loft" is like the companion piece to the opener "Provenance." Its head-nodding intro met with staccato cymbals picks up where the former left off--Gray Young knows to build and maximize song climaxes as well as anyone.

Some work will be needed for Gray Young to move past this album in the future. It seems that all of their songs kind of steal from one another--which creates a great milieu for this album, but it also becomes difficult to distinguish between the individual songs. This is a great soundtrack--if you like one song, you will like them all. That Gray Young is a trio never limits the band, but a point for the band to keep pushing themselves farther along.

Later I saw Gray Young open up for Appleseed Cast and the band didn't seem out of place there. Their set complemented exactly what Appleseed Cast did later on, but Appleseed Cast's work provided variety while maintaining the same ethos.
Firmament is a good album and I've come to listen to it regularly. But Gray Young will need to develop more of their own signature, they still lack one. There are some promising options, but they will have to further it beyond what they have now.

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