Valley of the Giants
Valley of the Giants
Arts and Crafts
alley of the Giants is a conglomeration of talent from many of independent Canadian music’s biggest names: Godspeed, Do Make Say Think, Broken Social Scene, Shalabi Effect and, um, Strawberry (Nova Scotia’s finest, I hear). Despite the relative ignorance of the final piece of the puzzle, the other bands all dreg up the same sorts of associations: expansiveness, whether in Pop, Indie Rock, Post-Rock or Improv. The focus for each of these projects is widening the scope of what can be termed the respective genres that they operate within. It comes as little surprise, then, when one learns that Valley of the Giants is a sort of concept album, based on Michael Crichton’s Westworld—a science-fiction Western (the West being about as expansive as it gets). The group got together, watched the movie, had one rehearsal, went into the studio and recorded this, Valley of the Giants.
It should come as little surprise to anyone with the knowledge of the membership of the group and the way in which the album came about to learn that the album is eight tracks long and clocks in at over an hour’s worth of material. Expansiveness breeds the bloating of the song form in many cases, and it’s no different here. What may end up as surprise to some is to find out how ponderous these songs sometimes are (I’m sure it won’t surprise any music listeners already predisposed to hate anything to do with the Montreal Post-Rock cabal, however).
“Waiting to Catch a Bullet”, while aptly named for its moody smoldering feel, is crushed under its own weight, revealing little besides improved noodling between instrumentalists in the studio. In the right context, it’s an epic give and take between the forces of good and evil—wondering if each moment might be the last. And, admittedly, it’s a good metaphor for the solitary life in a mythical West, endlessly waiting for an event that will last for only a few moments—the release being an utter anti-climax. But the group treads this same territory on the songs immediately before it, making its delivery less of a simmering boil towards action and more of an extended interlude before the album can continue on its way.
That being said, the anti-climax following it is exactly that. Entitled “Whaling Tale”, the group opts out of explosive fireworks and turns towards fable to explain themselves. The track is a nine minute dirge in the style of Velvet Underground’s “The Box”. This time, however, the tale is about penguins and whales. The backing track, as most music here, is peppered with emotive guitars and, in this particular song’s case, a wavering ambient keyboard line.
Despite these clunkers (and they’re only this way due to context within the album), there are songs worth the price of admission. “Bala Bay Inn” is the gorgeous closer, the second track to utilize vocals. It’s a slow-burning ballad of the West, reveling in its build-up to coherency ala The Dirty Three’s take on Neil Young’s “Down By The River”. Once it settles into its gentle groove, however, its charm is undeniable—ending up as the aural equivelant of the uplifting ending. This was based on a movie after all. Similarly, “Westworld” is composed in the same vein, working the ideas of Do Make Say Think mixed with a healthy does of female vocals and a debt to Pop structures.
Overall, this album turns out exactly how you think an album featuring members of some Canada’s most renowned Post-Rock bands might, if they had seen Westworld the night before going into the studio. It’s ably crafted, performed admirably and merely suffers from its length and pacing. But, as Westworld was one of Crichton’s first forays into the film-making, so is this Valley of the Giants first time together in the studio. Surely there are future blockbusters in the works. The only question, of course, is which movie to pick next.