20 August 2010

CD RETRO REVIEW: The Ascent of Everest - how lonely sits the city (2006, Southern Empire/Angel or the Airbag Collective/2008, Shelsmusic

(NB: this review was initially web published 19 January 2007)

Formed in Spring 2005 in Tennessee, The Ascent of Everest’s sound brings to mind a combination of Kid A era Radiohead and a somewhat less angsty Godspeed You!Black Emperor. Their material is expansive and cinematic, carefully layered collages of found sound, sample and electric instrumentation, with classical strings, processed and straight, soaring like strange winged creatures above the swirling alien musical landscape beneath. Their music is at once immediate and rewarding in the long term...and it is strangely addicting. I find myself playing their album How Lonely Sits the City! on repeat for hours, becoming entwined in the finely constructed compositions, wandering as torrents of sound both terrify and wash away fear.

The band says: “These are not just songs they are mantras, prayers, hymns written not in hymnals or textbooks but etched into the backs of pews, chairs, and hearts. They echo with the frustrations, elations, torments, and triumphs of a generation unsatisfied with just being disenchanted, bored with just being unconventional, and burning with passions that refuse to be silenced.”

I want to single out “A Threnody (For the Victims of November Second)” for special notice. I am embarrassed to reveal that it’s taken me weeks of listening and thought to come to the realisation that the November 2nd referred to was 2 November 2004, the day of the most recent US Presidential election. Without getting into politics, the found sound and sample collages of newscasters and political pundits, woven into the elegiac/requiem like darkness the band produces, is not only suitable, but necessary. Without those touchstones that hearken back to reality, this is a musical labyrinth one could easily become lost in with no hope of escape.

(NB: after the fact…and believe me, this will quite possibly be the only time I will break into a retro review with anything resembling current or new content…I’d like to correct one thing from the above paragraph. The spoken word portion of this track is in fact former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, taken from his speech at the 1984 Democratic Presidential Convention. Without taking any sides…so far as this blog is concerned, I am as apolitical as it comes…unless I have to discuss open political content in a song, like this…you can find out more about this here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/8/23/771149/-A-Threnody,-For-The-Victims-Of-November-2nd )

I simply cannot recommend this album highly enough. The music is so expansive, with lengthy compositions building, ebbing and fading in strange and wonderful ways. The mix of classical instrumentation in a rock environment, while certainly not unique, is used here to perfect effect, worked into the mix such that it becomes not a separate function of the band, but essential and necessary. Without it, The Ascent of Everest as a band would be diminished. Music such as that captured on How Lonely Sits the City! is rare and precious indeed, and well worth seeking out. Add this album to your “Must buy” list; you will be glad you did.

I want to leave the final word to the band:

“We want everyone no matter where they stand to start by taking a good look around, and then a good look within and then ask themselves "what am I doing?" We don't just acknowledge, but challenge the trepidations of the age. We seek to meet them head on. The hope we speak of is the hope that it is not too late to defy the numbing of daily routine and escape the hum of this city, beaming with artificial light. Flee from the pit-er-patting of exhaust pipes and find a quite place that has yet to be spoiled by paved roads. All we ask is that you find this place, and go there. Go there and be at peace.”

Track List:
1.) Alas, Alas! The Breath Of Life!
2.) As The City Burned We Trembled For We Saw The Makings Of It's Undoing In Our Own Hearts.
3.) Molotov
4.) A Threnody (For The Victims Of November Second)
5.) If I Could Move Mountains
part 1: Majesty And Awe
part 2: Collapse Into Understanding
part 3: Gathered Hearts Rise And Sing At The First Breath Of Dawn

Devin - Guitar, Vocals
Keller - Guitar
Drew - Bass
Casey - Cello, Strings
Dillon - Violin, Strings
Chris - Piano, Mallets
Michael - Drums, Percussion, Mallets

J CLutch
Walkie Talkie Heros


(Photos: Top, cover of Shelsmusic Reissue of how lonely sits the city!. Bottom, original cover of how lonely sits the city!)

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