New albums from Grails and Slowdive
Hymnal (Temporary Residence Ltd.) Portland, Oregon, band Grails surfaces every few years with a collection of experimental rock songs, having stayed away just long enough that their return is a surprise. During these hiatuses, founding members Alex Hall and Emil Amos typically explore disparate side projects such as the funk-inspired Lilacs & Champagne and the drone-metal band Om. When they return to Grails, it’s usually to perform a brand of metal that blends the psychedelic space-rock of Hawkwind with the post-rock atmospherics of Godspeed You Black Emperor. On Chalice Hymnal, however, Hall and Amos throw a curveball and rope in as many influences as their considerable musical knowledge allows. With inviting grooves from an electric piano and a soulful vocal sample (rendered unintelligible), “Empty Chamber” feels like something from an Erykah Badu record. The album closer “After the Funeral” is 10 minutes of gently swaying beats, lush strings and horns, and acoustic guitars that recall dramatic 1950s soundtracks and druidic dirges from Black Sabbath. The band directly calls back to its much-loved 2011 album Deep Politics with cuts like “Deeper Politics” and “Deep Snow II,” but it’s unclear whether this is a continuation of earlier ideas or a bit of playfulness for longtime fans. The latter track is among the album’s highlights, with contained bursts of inspired guitar between quiet passages of repose. It’s not unlike the band’s general career approach. — Robert Ker
SLOWDIVE Slowdive (Dead Oceans) In recent years, several indie bands from the 1990s have pulled together to release new albums and embark on new tours. There’s money in nostalgia, as early fans now have more disposable income and newer generations benefit from decades of critical assessment (as well as easy access to bands’ entire catalogs on the internet). However, the self-titled new release from 1990s shoegaze act Slowdive is so good that it seems less a cash-in and more as though the musicians, now wiser and more comfortable with themselves, simply reconvened for the joy of making music. Slowdive announces its return from a 22-year break with the opener “Slomo,” a song that luxuriates in soft-rock drums and synthesizers and is driven by a lead guitar that sounds aquatic, receding away through echoing delays. Every sound is multiplied through the thick use of reverberation and multitracked vocals, giving the songs a kaleidoscopic feel. The tempo explodes from “Slomo” into “Star Roving” and “Everyone Knows,” and there is a euphoric urgency to much of the material — a far cry from the group’s best 1990s work, which was more hypnotic and ephemeral. The album ends with “Falling Ashes,” an eight-minute composition of gentle piano melodies and the words “thinking about love” repeated like a mantra. It’s a hushed composition that feels like snowflakes slowly melting. When it closes, Slowdive disappears again. — R.K.