Monday, September 2, 2013

Blizzard At Sea - Certain Structures (2013)

It was said decades ago that space was the final frontier. We've explored so much, and yet there is seemingly endless corners of the galaxy to see. Unless you can claim to be one of the chosen few who have been fortunate enough to visit the vacuum that expands all around us, you have to find other ways to get the feeling of floating. Iowa City three piece Blizzard At Sea are no strangers to the concept of space and it's mysteries. Having tackled some intelligent material on their first two offerings, their career could be likened to early rocket launches; with each take off, they go further than before, hoping to one day reach the stated goal. But with their first full length album on the way, it was time to move beyond the "small step for man" effect of their EPs past. With a successful Kickstarter campaign funding their return to the studio, they emerge ready to make the transmission their adoring fans on the ground below have been waiting for. In a crackling, barely audible message, they declare that "Certain Structures" is the giant leap we've been waiting for.

Having forged a style that is immediately recognizable, "Under The Firmament" is the epitome of what Blizzard At Sea has become. With the guitars and bass work now tightened to absurd levels, they tighten their grip around you within mere minutes. Drummer Pat Took, then, must keep pace; which he does with a eclectic barrage of snare and cymbal combination that pack every bit of the punch necessary. While they infused melodic vocals on their last EP, the band now flows seamlessly between clean and growled lyrics, with the former sometimes taking on the form of chanting. By allowing everything around it to grow organically, they keep each passing movement fresh and vibrant, including the warm beginning to "Subjugated Apophenia." But when the time is right, something only they could figure out, the waves crash down with little to no regard for the safety of man, woman, or child. By no means are they reckless; each stanza is timed and executed with brutal precision and a keen sense of conceptualization. There is, however, a new wrinkle to the mix here, with some beautifully spacious post-rock sections that cleanse your pallet before the next taste of sludge.The title track, "Certain Structures," could be looked at as the mission statement of a band on the rise. Mastering the on and off switch - the one that controls the weighty riff work - is a learned skill, one that guitarist Steven Douglas Ross can now add to his resume. Transitioning from dense chugging to widdling solo is no easy task, and it is handled here without so much as a hiccup.

From the clear to the unclear, "Invisible Surfaces" is a directional shift, from aggressive to atmospheric. Clean guitars, with minimal backing, drip through your speakers. Layered on top of them, a clean vocal that reinforces the maturity seen in their career arc. While there are some who might find this sort of effort to be contradictory to the album as a whole, it's impact on the following track, "Almost Awake," is undeniable. With the mood set, much like the exposition in your favorite book, it allows for musical freedom. The rhythm section dominates the verse here, with bassist Jesse Cohen's work being felt in the rattling of your chair. There is something that becomes noticeable in the mixing aspect of the album here; the clarity of the drums is impressive, allowing each element of the kit to stand out from the others. With that strong foundation at the base of the mix, it elevates Cohen and Ross, as they lay down a catchy, almost mind altering chug and slide combination. For a track that goes well into double digits, there is no shortage of tempo changes and shifts, including arguably the best solo the band has gotten onto recorded media. The track fades, as do you, floating off into some distant space, only to be dragged back by the much more insistent "Planeswalker." The vocal line here boasts a new degree of power, drilling into your pre-frontal cortex like a knife through melted butter.

The final trio of songs sees yet another change, but this one coming in the dimensional field. Anyone outside of the bands inner circle that says they could have predicted the clarity, beauty and dream inducing simplicity of "Anomie" is either a pathological liar, or a soothsayer in need of study. It seems to come out of right field, or left field, or a magnetic field; but this is not a one off. Sure, it's clean guitars are replaced on "Dreaming Of Distant Things," but it is the spirit that remains. They embrace all things post-rock here unlike ever before, making the title seems all the more perfect. Took as it his very best here, his drumming doing more than forming a pedestal or base; he actually commands the lead at times, an array of snares, toms, and metallic clang of cymbals adding to the ambient, albeit heavy, melodies. One of the more impressive album comes at its conclusion, with the finale track "The Golden Hour" coming at you on two different levels. The track, clocking in at eight minutes, is a journey of its own. Hazy guitars and bass echoing through measures after measure. There is no lazy, convoluted filler to be had here.  But it is also the apt conclusion to the floating journey the album has taken you on. That significance can not be lost here.

There is always going to be a certain amount of skepticism involved when a band makes the leap from Ep to album. It has little or nothing to do with talent, as it does with concept. Blizzard At Sea have proven, through their first two releases, that they have mastered the sort form recording. But with "Certain Structures," they have proven to both themselves and their growing legion of fans that three songs is not their limit. Instead, they've carefully thought out, planned, meticulously organized their thoughts, and put them onto digital media in a way that is both profound and reassuring. There will, undoubtedly, be a certain amount of prejudice that you'll have to let go of. This isn't "Invariance," or even "Individuation"; nor should you want it to be. It goes beyond what those two EPs did, harnessing all of their elements and adding more along the way. You'll get everything that made you believe in the first place, enough to make you realize that there is far more to come. Because while the structures of which they write might be certain, they are expansive, and sometimes boundless in nature. And it could take years before we finally explore them all.


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