lmost ten years ago, Do Make Say Think released their first, self-titled album. One of the few acts signed to Constellation, the home of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, DMST were B-listers. Their dub-influenced instrumental rock came off as a bland middle ground between Tortoise’s jazzier experiments and GYBE!’s tense buzz-saw symphonies.
It’s rare in the world of indie rock that a band goes from being mediocre to pretty great, but DMST have done just that. In today’s marketplace, bands are either hyped to nauseating proportions or placed in the promo pile, never to be heard from again. But steadily, DMST have grown, as You, You’re a History in Rust humbly exhibits.
On their last effort, Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, DMST crafted an album built around a trio of trios, or three three-song suites that were meant to be movements both as a whole and as individual pieces. It was an admirable concept, and paid off—the group showcased a more intuitive sense of melodic progression than in albums past, a finer attention to detail and texture, and particularly skillful pacing. Yet for an album tied together by such a pronounced concept, Winter Hymn also felt disjointed, what with each of its movements standing proudly on their own but finding little relation to one another. Save for the first and last songs on the record, which were certified bookends, the remainder’s deliberate separation made me eager to hit the pause button at each third. The problem with Winter Hymn, however small, is that it sustains mood but fails to capture the undivided attention of the listener.
Where You, You’re a History in Rust trumps its predecessor is in its seamlessness. Playing this in the background, or even giving it a focused and concentrated listen, it is nearly impossible to tell where one song ends and the other begins. This is partly because many of the songs do more than just endlessly repeat a guitar line and build up its volume and add sound effects. Opener “Bound to Be That Way” applies many of DMST’s trademark instrumentation: skittering, distant drums, spiraling guitar lines, warped tones, and drunken horns. But a little more than halfway in, the initial theme drops out and the instruments take a different approach. Suddenly DMST seem far more natural than methodical; when the guitar line returns, it’s buried beneath a new template, transitioning perfectly into the epic nine-minute “A With Living.” Over muffled, tumbling drums and pensive guitar, they introduce vocals into a melancholy and quietly dramatic indie rock gem.
What’s most amazing about You, You’re a History in Rust is that for the first time, DMST have learned how to write songs, while also turning in the most mature and accomplished instrumental work they’ve done yet. The most impressive moment arrives in closer “In Mind,” where a strolling, charming acoustic guitar and banjo weaves in and out of background percussion. Once the instruments are brought to the front of the mix, layers of bells and glockenspiels augment the melody, leading into a finale of single-note horns, compassionate vocals, and laptop static, creating a neo-shoegaze folk-pop bijou. Though the song is the most detached from the album’s suite, it’s a fitting conclusion—it does everything the album does in four minutes.
It’s rare today to have a band like DMST. With many artists reaching back to find influences or changing directions because they’re afraid of becoming stale, here’s a band who work on altering their sound without sacrificing its initial blueprint. But more importantly You, You’re a History in Rust is undeniably of our time. It’s as much focused on electronic textures as acoustic affectation—log cabin folk supplanted by indie rock sensibilities and dramatic post-rock tendencies. And a showcase of a band who have learned lessons and improved upon them, quietly getting better and better until something really special emerges.
Reviewed by: Tal Rosenberg
Reviewed on: 2007-03-20