Monday, February 20, 2012

Deep Politics - Grails (#1, 2011)

A couple of days ago, I posted a catch-up Grails discography so far - because their latest album was my #1 of 2011!

As I mentioned in the "Story So Far" post, the previous Black Tar Prophecies, Vol. 4 (#19, 2010) signalled possible new direction(s), with less rock in the equation. But what would it/they be? Early talk on the record and this Grails guest article on "The 11 Greatest Producers of All Time" gave plenty of hints.

"Almost Grew My Hair" from Deep Politics (2011)

There was a lot of talk about the cut-and-paste production aesthetics of Teo Macero (#4) and Holger Czukay, as well as hip-hop luminaries such as DJ Shadow and Dr. Dre (#5). And I can hear some of that in some places on Deep Politics, but let's start at the ending - where the first "singles" came from.

The ranked producer most relevant to the final trilogy is probably Vangelis (#10). His widescreen electro-prog definitely informs the mega-jams here at the back of the record. The subtle chorus of voices on "Almost Grew My Hair" certainly seems Vangelian to me, and the central guitar motif could easily be an Americanized version of some Greco-folk shanty segment. The stately rise and fall, climaxes and crescendos, derive as much from progressive rock as post-rock (or maybe the prog edge of the post- spectrum). At any rate, real nice tune there - here's how they played it live 9/9/2011.

Title relevance: a play on the CSN&Y freak anthem "Almost Cut My Hair"

I LED THREE LIVES! - Grails from The Fact Facer on Vimeo.

Before the whole album was out, "I Led Three Lives" was unleashed on the internet - in MP3 & video formats. You can still download these first two tracks from Stereogum. As with a few tunes here, there's a triptych structure. The first movement heralds a looming menace and the oncoming march of some unspeakable dread. Then the battle is joined, with the bombastic clash from the rising Archon of honor and justice (or some such). Choose your own finale: peaceful tranquility once evil has been defeated, or the ebb of life as our hero dies at the hand of the Adversary - all hope dwindling away. Something with zombies and/or demons, or possibly Communists...

The official Emil Amos video above is an edited version of the song - hear here the full audio track.

Title relevance: the name of an early-'50s television spy drama

"Deep Snow" from Deep Politics (2011)

Home-brew video premiere!! Enigma (1978), via UBUWEB, at ½-speed. This one's the final cut. Nice folkish vibe with some ups & downs, a pleasant balance of jamming and nuance.

Title relevance: unsure. Are you looking at deep snow? Are you inside or underneath deep snow? Is this deep snow far in the past, or on some distant planet?

GRAILS - Daughters of Bilitis from The Fact Facer on Vimeo.

Moving back into the middle of the album, this was the 2nd official video (fairly NSFW). The Italian horror soundtrack vibe underpins something both smooth jazz and deep soul - though nothing quite in Mangione territory. But the focus on keys, the mechanical rhythm, the string section - this could have easily failed, and I was a little surprised Grails could pull it off. So well.

Title relevance: named after the "first lesbian rights organization in the United States... formed in San Francisco in 1955"

"Deep Politics" from Deep Politics (2011)

Title track, and one of the best I'd say. An excellent fusion of the new-style keyboard & strings, and then some more guitarish aspects of Grails. I bet 98 out of 100 random edits of any grindhouse movies would work with this music. And maybe 50% of arthouse films.

Title relevance: unlikely that it's connected to this forum, "dedicated to shining light into the shadowy reaches of historical and contemporary deep political systems." More probably the deep politics of the inner sphere, if you know what I mean...

"All the Colors of the Dark" from Deep Politics (2011)

And finally, we turn our attention to the earliest section of the album, where Grails begin their drift away from the past - and towards the future. "All the Colors of the Dark" covers a lot of ground - the rolling piano, a lovely acoustic figure, some spaghetti twang, a shifting bed of synth choirs, and a sci-fi reverb climax! I was shocked to learn that they played this live.

Title relevance: named after the critical biography of Mario Bava - and for some reason it reminds me of Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space," but I think that's a personal issue.

"Corridors of Power" from Deep Politics (2011)

What in the ...?! This is like minimalist beatbox, over ambient swirl, topped with flute loop and chimes. I don't even... know, anymore. Pretty chill, though.

Title relevance: per the 1963 book of the same name (by C.P. Snow), the place where politics happen - so I imagine that deep politics would happen in deep corridors. There's also "Corridors of Power II" by Lilacs & Champagne.

"Future Primitive" from Deep Politics (2011)

The opening track sets the stage: the intro soars and subsides, leading to a chugging riff, with layers added and withdrawn, then alternating leads circle, one snaking acoustic tendrils, the other fiddling away, like the lotus flower, it opens its petals, not once nor twice, but infinitely - or close enough. And that's just like the first half... Totally sweet opener, its layers indeed multiple and repeated listens truly rewarded.

Title relevance: in 1994, two seemingly unrelated books were published under this title: a collection of essays by anarcho-primitivist philosopher John Zerzan and another of notable short works of utopian fiction and dystopian fiction (incorporating elements of primitivism and of eco-anarchism).

Grails at the window
So there it is. Best album of last year, as far as I'm concerned. And that's just the music... Throw in the etched Side 4, the great videos and album promo, an early library music mix, the Top 11 Producers list, even their tribute/primer to Jackson Browne - and that's a whole lot of awesome!

Deep Politics

Genre - Tibetan Crime Jazz
Official -
Myspace -
Location - Portland, OR

Review - Pitchfork
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Temporary Residence Ltd.

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