regor Samsa deserves better. The three bands that they resemble the most (Sigur Ros, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Low) each are far more popular in the indie world, have bigger labels courting their future work, and don’t have to have day jobs if they don’t desire them. That’s a function of a number of things: Sigur Ros sings in an otherworldly language, Godspeed has the added political backstory, and Low…well, they’re just brilliant, but you get the point. Gregor Samsa has none of these things (possibly the brilliance), but they do finally have an album, 55:12, which delivers on the promise of five years, a few EPs, and the great expectations that came with both.
Luckily, Gregor Samsa’s brand of vocal post-rock depression never goes out of style. There will always be a market for a song like “These Points Balance,” which features the slowest drum beat ever recorded, girl/boy vocals, and moody atmospherics building consensus in the back room. It’s a pop song, sure, but it’s one that’s been slowed down so much that it reaches nearly eight minutes. Slow it even further and you’ve got Spacemen 3. Speed it up and you’ve got Interpol. “These Points Balance” and the strings-laden “Young and Old” anchor the album, providing the build-up and climax to the twenty-five minutes that has come before.
There’s more, of course, but you know the drill: moods are set, guitars are delayed, voices wearily intertwine with one another, sonic beds are made, the sheets remain unruffled. What elevates Gregor Samsa out of the post-rock din and paint-by-numbers comparisons is a perfect distillation of elements. It’s the type of music that you know you’ve heard before somewhere, but can’t quite place it—the sort of fully-formed music that only self-assured bands make.
As with any debut album, there are problems: namely the concluding two tracks where you can hear the band asking questions like, “How did we get into this chord?” and “How do we successfully get out?” “Lessening,” in particular, seems like a lesser counterpart to earlier highlights. But with its middling opening, break-through-the-murk climax, and solitary finale it is perhaps the perfect song to close the album.
It’s rare that you find a band with a debut album as refined as Gregor Samsa, but that’s what five years of practice will do for you. By honoring patience, their own financial shortcomings, or personal issues, the band has come out all the better for it. And something tells me that there’s going to be a sad bastard that will fall in love with it as much as this critic has.