Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I had some difficulty in finding a proper subject for this week's ramblings. Without delving too deep into my persona life, I've been going through some emotionally taxing things lately. With that, like most people, I turn to music for support. Music can be a great number of things to people in emotional duress. It can be validation for their feelings, recognition or sharing of particular emotions between the artist and the listener. The music could convey different or completely opposing emotions than the ones the listener could be feeling, to distract or to comfort. It could be anything. Whatever the personal significance is, emotionally charged music has carved a very large niche in the hearts of people everywhere. So, it's no great surprise that my musical selections as of late have been of the dramatic vein. Mono, Sigur Ros, Immanu El, Envy, Mogwai, Deafheaven, you know the schpeal. All of those groups are amazing and fit some of my feelings like a glove, but there is one band that I hold to such high esteem as to call the producers of Perfect Emotional Music™. I'm talking about A Northern Chorus.

I'm not going to be surprised if that wasn't a name you were expecting, or even aware of. This band is criminally underrated and largely unknown. They were a Canadian group, formed at the turn of the century who released four albums between 2001 and 2007 and announced their resignation in 2008. For a band of this caliber, that's a very short career. But in the words of Eldon Tyrell "The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned very, very brightly..." God, did this band burn bright. What I want to talk about today, in particular, is their 2005 release Bitter Hands Resign. This album has such a special place in my life. I can remember hearing it for the first time. An acquaintance was describing the album to me, and I remember feeling apprehensive. He kept going on about the emotions conveyed, how moody the album was, and that was initially a big turn off. I don't want to listen to some over-wrought and over-dramatic whine fest. Who would? I had no idea how far from the truth that assumption was at the time, and for some reason I went against my better judgement and gave the record a spin. My life has never recovered. What I found in place of saccharine and melodramatic moaning was instead the most honest and heartfelt display of emotions I have ever found in music. Don't take that lightly. I listen to a great deal of dramatic music, its a quality I enjoy very much. At the end of the day though, very rarely do the feelings I find in music go deeper than their face value. A lot of the time, music feels dramatic or emotional for the sake of being that way, or it just doesn't feel completely credible. It is completely different with this album. Its impossible for me to even put into words what this record accomplishes. Let me start with the sound. They have predominantly post rock elements, complimented by folk and even emo sentiments. Somebody described this band once as Sigur Ros in english, I'm inclined to agree. They go much farther than that, however. They do share that otherworldly, ethereal quality; they both have an enormous amount of space to their sound. Both bands are enormously dynamic as well. How A Northern Chorus accomplishes these things are widely divergent from anyone else you could compare them to. There is such delicacy and intention behind every little sound and motion on this record. Everything seems so loose and natural, while in actuality everything is precisely calculated and wildly deliberate. The album opens with light plucked guitar notes, warm in reverb, and then suddenly explodes into this vast, crushing, shimmering wall of holy fuck. That dynamic range is preserved throughout the record. The way they handle these dynamic shifts and crescendos isn't so linear in style as, say, Explosions In The Sky; their approach is a much more natural feeling. The general tempo of this album is quite low. It creates this slow, brooding atmosphere, where every note has weight and meaning. The musicianship on the record reflects that sentiment, the bassist being the most standout in that regard. He displays such reservation in his playing, waiting until the perfect moment to unleash fills and harmonies. The instrument tones on this album all feel so perfect, so completely complimentary to what they are playing. The guitars seem to have a certain timbre that reflects and responds to the classical instruments present on the record. The vocal work is interesting, usually harmonized between male and female vocalists, a la Efterklang. The lyrics sung on this record are absolutely poetic, completely credible and dripping with meaning. I rarely place importance on lyrics in my personal appreciation of music. I guess that comes from my history of being a metal head, not really having clear lyrics to go off of (and when they are present, it's usually about skulls and dragons and death and fire and not real things to care about). So, it wasn't until years after listening to this record that I actually sat down and read the lyrics. What I found was astonishing. The lyrics fit the music perfectly, in the emotions both are trying and succeeding to communicate. Take this passage, from the song This Open Heart: "Tell me what happens when planets align/will torrid skies collapse our hearts?/will jealous moons come crashing down into the ocean floor?/" The imagery is so fucking powerful, and a perfect representation of their sound and aesthetic. Those lyrics come at one of the most charged and poweful moments on the whole album, right before one of my favorite moments of music ever put to wax. The emotions found on this album are those of heartache, of love, of hurt and understanding. The way they're presented, though, are in such a sincere light. The music dances around these feelings with a certain degree of subtlety and grace, that you are never left feeling like they've gone over the top or they're hitting you in the face with anything. There are times where I feel like its so rare for me to feel so strongly about an album, in the way that I feel connected to it. More rare is it to find that everybody that I have ever known to listen to this album feels the exact same way about it. It is such a rare and unique beauty, this album. I just feel like there is not alot of music that is made this honestly anymore, that is able to be so empathetic with its messages and communication. A Northern Chorus has created this incredibly intimate symbiosis and interplay between the album and its listener, I haven't really ever found that anywhere else. So who is this album for? Obviously if you're a fan of post-rock, this should be at the top of your list. But I think this album really transcends genres in the sense that it will be immediately approachable to anybody with a heart. Whether you're into tech death, dubstep, chillwave or hardcore, as long as you have ever felt anything in your life there will be some level you can relate to this album. Bitter Hands Resign speaks from such sincerity and understanding that you are filled with memories of things that you've never experienced, longing for that loved one you never had. You feel the soreness of wounds you may not have endured, and the sting of fresh ones that aren't there. This album possesses you, it transfixes you where you stand and rips you open and everything you have just pours out through your speakers. That's not to say this album is only good for when you're feeling sad. I've found this album to be equally at home for driving fast, for drunken shout-alongs, for romantic interchanges. Listen to it loud, listen to it hard. At the end of the day, you will have a very hard time finding a more raw, aware, and honest piece of music. This album is one of the best kept secrets of modern music.
- Nick Weber

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