Saturday, July 21, 2012

JAM DESHO: about tess - Song of the Bird (VBR-002)

By Steve Jones.

(JAM Desho is our feature highlighting the best of the Far East. Today, we continue our feature on Virgin Babylon Records with Song of the Bird by about tess.)

Seven Idiots would have been a tough act to follow for any band, let alone one I had never heard before. The second album was a proving ground for this new label. I had already known that World's End Girlfriend could make an excellent album, but could Virgin Babylon Records? The answer was, "Yes, stupid, because about tess are a great band." In fact, I liked Song of the Bird even more than Seven Idiots when it was released (it took a couple of years to warm up to the latter). Out of nowhere, about tess blew me away with a heavy, deliberate, and technical sound that teleported me up and away for the record's duration.

My favorite aspect of this album is its HUGEness. It's not just huge; it's huge in such a way that stays engaging for the entire hour and fifteen minute experience. I'm not 100% sure how about tess accomplishes this feat, but I think it comes down to the proficiency of the musicians themselves. The band consists of 2 guitarists, 2 bassists, and 2 drummers who all play the hell out of their instruments. This doubling not only makes their sound larger, but it allows for a lot of engaging interplay between players that steers this beast of a record forward. And I like to think that their heaviness is just the result of the 6 of them playing in a studio together with no overdubbing. You can feel the musicians work off of each other. The drumming is fucking amazing, snapping and crashing and driving your head throughout Song of the Bird. There's a lot of virtuosity to hear in the guitars and basses, each of which find their moments to shine. I'm sure it's not the case, but it's feasible to imagine this album played start to finish in one take given how proficiently it flows.

I know Song of the Bird looks intimidating, with 75 minutes stretched across 4 tracks, the shortest of which is over 12 minutes long. Yes, it's overwhelming, but also anything but disengaging. Song of the Bird is one of the most literal interpretations of the post-rock label that I have heard, in that it uses rock instrumentation and rock style performance but swirls it into a nonstop progression from vamping on one riff until it morphs slowly into the next. The math rock label has also been touted around for about tess. You're not going to see too many weird time signatures here, but the way the various players lock together with their intricate grooves is technical enough to warrant some mathy comparisons. About tess assault the listener with heavy, relentless sound, but they don't forget how rhythm and melody and quieter moments can make a huge album sound enormous.

I'm usually the guy who wants all kinds of nice ornamentation with strings and horns and synths on every track, so it means something when I get so excited over an album that sticks to just three instruments. Even I can appreciate pure musicianship, and it's also not like this album isn't ambitious. Supposedly it's a concept album about migration, and I can hear it. The way the album locks into fast-paced grooves captures the essence of flight, and it emulates a journey from beginning to end that is long but never tedious. Song of the Bird is a grandiose instrumental epic.

Listen to it below. As with the rest of the Virgin Babylon albums, it will be available for two weeks, and I'll be back next week with another record for you to hear.

(Steve Jones is thinking about migrating to somewhere that doesn't have triple digit temperatures. You can recommend him places on his Twitter @vestenet.)

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