Below The Sea
Blame It On The Past
Where Are My
his weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving (Canada: Where we ration our holidays, damn it), and as a result I’m in my hometown for the first time since becoming single again. That would have made for a weird weekend no matter what else happened, but I’ve been watching movies about the past and growing up, listening to the Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee too much and taking my dog for long walks at night. All of which would be completely meaningless in the context of Quebec instrumentalists Below The Sea’s third album and first with bassist Victor Meyer except that Blame It On The Past basically is my weekend. It’s quieter than normal and content to be solitary, a little melancholy but ultimately hopeful. No word yet on whether or not it adores John Darnielle, but it matches up well enough to these early mornings in the basement with the family computer, trying to get something down before fatigue catches up. Perversely enough these weekends are among the ones I most enjoy, and likewise Below The Sea manages to rear their head high above the quarantine wall where we keep all the shitty “post-rockers.”
Even the song titles fit reflection and space and rest: “Anonymity,” “Ceremonies,” “Stroll Down Memory Lane,” “Careful Confrontations.” With Meyer they’re now a regular power trio, and main instrumentalist Patrick Lacharité, while still playing with the calm precision of their older material, branches out into more shadings of piano, programming and “noises.” Second track “As Is” even briefly mounts to a stuttering near-collapse before politely ushering itself out of earshot, but mostly this is carefully and superbly modulated music, the sound of three people reaching for moments of small splendor and overshooting the mark a little. Small touches colour in the stark outlines of these songs, trombone (courtesy of Mathieu Grisé of destroyalldreamers) and a piano duet on “Ceremonies,” Ulrich Schnauss lending a little of that Morr magic to “Stroll Down Memory Lane,” recorder and clarinet wending their way through “Sleigh Bells” (which, thankfully, doesn’t have any), and timbales adding extra swing to beautifully keening closer “Well Water.” Even the unassisted songs show off an impressive interplay, Pascal Asselin on drums urging the song forward as Meyer and Lacharité slowly and hypnotically dart through each others’ lines.
Usually when instrumental groups are trying to impress these days they go for scope and scale, and it’s a pleasant relief to find a band that are willing to devote as much expertise and effort to carving lovely miniatures out of the silence instead. There is never the air of the histrionic crescendo here; all epiphanies are gentle. They also avoid the opposite trap of precious obscurity; instead they kindly offer up striking, evocative liner notes, each song briefly sketched out with an aphorism or a description with ghostly old photos looking in the background. The cover alone is one of the more striking ones I’ve seen in recent times. Although packaging never compensates for bad music, done properly it enhances what’s on the disc; You get a sense of what the band might mean by these sounds without ever feeling penned in, prevented from adding your own emotional two cents.
More than anything else, this is modest music, in aims and in execution (although not in success). Usually that sort of comment gets taken as dismissive, but why would I want all the music I love to be equally outsized? The epigram to “Anonymity” runs
Not everyone craves attention.and in the context of this music it doesn’t feel dismissive. This is music for waking up the next morning and realizing your headache is gone, and that you don’t have to go to work until tomorrow. For small victories, the kind most of us have. It’s great when music lets us be larger than our lives, but sometimes we need it to be an anchor instead of wings, to ground us in the here and now and remind us that beauty doesn’t just happen elsewhere.
Not everyone wants to be a star.
Stars are for nights and sidewalks.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2005-10-11