“If I had listened to the critics I’d have died drunk in the gutter” (Anton Chekhov)
O no! Not more joy!
Whatever happened to the gloom-gladdened generation of post-Morrissey miserabilists and shoegazers that did so much to rain on that underwhelmingly forgettable millennial parade? Kevin Shields, where are you now? (Getting hammered, most likely, at one of the Coppolla’s pre-production parties in Hawaii. And, incidentally, helping said Smiths legend celebrate his relief at not having to follow through on the worst idea of his career and write this year’s UK entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. [WTF?] And, of course, more likely than not, thumbing the repeat button on Do Make Say Think’s latest release to get some sort of handle on this remarkable sea-change.)
Fifth album. Cor blimey.
That in itself is a remarkable event in these strangely relativistic-challenging times, wherein the historic analogue parabolas of slow and steady artistic evolution (a classical composer’s fifth symphony tends more often than not to represent the apogee of his early career) have become displaced by the digital compressions that follow the circular path: Local Obscurity > Internet Phenomenon > Debut Sensation > Followup Fart > Return to Obscurity – in the space of a fortnight.
According to a recent BBC World Service Poll, the country perceived as having the most positive influence on world affairs is – Canada!
No surprises there, then, especially for those whose only major world affair has been with music for the last few years. That much-mocked (South Park’s ‘With all their beady little eyes, /their flapping heads so full of lies /Blame Canada!‘ will stick forever like fresh-spat gum to the phlegmatic sole of Canadian history) very large (second largest by area in the world) non-American (definitively) North American country north of the unnaturally linear 49th parallel borderline has worked hard to overcome its shameful musical past (whisper it once – *Celine Dion* – never to be spoken again) and built on a Rockies-solid substrate of past brilliance (Oscar Peterson, Glen Gould, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young – OK, I might have missed one or three) to erect a pantheon of such unchallenged excellence as the current top of the crop – Arcade Fire – and, elusive as ever, but steadily acquiring a reputation as one of the outstanding bands of its generation – Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Not to mention Broken Social Scene. Oh – and Do Make Say Think.
Do Make Say Think came together in Toronto in 1995-96 and self-released their self-recorded, self-titled debut CD in 1997. Constellation Records re-issued this record the following year and have worked with the band ever since. Four of the founding members continue to play in the group: Ohad Benchetrit, James Payment, Justin Small and Charles Spearin. Jason MacKenzie played drums, keyboards and electronics on the first two records, and Dave Mitchell joined in 1998. The band has relied on regular contributions from horn players Brian Cram and Jay Baird in recent years, both on record and in concert, and some tracks on this new release acknowledge the contribution of as many as eleven guests.
It’s that two-drummer element of the five-man core that is one of the most interesting and distinguishing aspects of the DMST sound – such a quasi-orchestral percussion section enables the multi-nuanced rhythmic structures that underpin the typically rapturous transparencies of the sonic architecture as a whole (including the use of some wildly experimental time-signatures – Herstory of Glory rotates three bars of 6/8 with one half-bar hiccough of 2/4 in a wickedly folk/mediaeval manner – kind of a jig, I’d say) – as well as facilitating the making of a great deal of pure noise qua noise – as and when appropriate.
Those who thought Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn‘s 2003 opener – Fredericia – represented the apogee of epic post-rock will be sceptical to hear that the opener on this one – Bound to Be That Way – might challenge that conviction. And that’s just the opener, performing the proper function of any opener to such a through-composed work: laying out the stall of recorded rhythmic and melodic figures that fade in and out along with found and recovered sounds, teetering along the artful ridge between anarchic structure and structured anarchy, with lead instruments sliding and shifting through the pleasingly hook-ridden mix like torch-bearers illuminating the flickering narrative knots of some huge and enigmatic tapestry.
The Universe! and Executioner Blues are hardcore postrock pleasers – full-on, in your face, very noisy (and very quiet – then very noisy again – then …) and tremendous fun. The Universe! is the kind of thing that should be playing when you’re chilling out on some paradise beach at sunset surrounded by your favourite people and watching a bunch of well-oiled jugglers etching their gloriously dangerous fire poi around against the gloaming horizon. And Executioner Blues concludes, in fact, with a totally helter skelter kind of I’ve got blisters on my fingers false ending, which is very funny, before subsiding into a cicada-backgrounded idly-strummed coda. And the breakdown into giggles between extended intro and sweet acoustic guitar duet section of A Tender History ought to be annoying, but isn’t, nor is the outro of choral whistling and la-la-ing on the same track (well, not to me, at any rate – but I’m as thin on cynic-chitin as I am on hair these days – must reorder the pills). A With Living even has vocals – of a verse-chorus-verse-chorus kind, even – sung as part of a kind of hybrid Iroquois hoedown with campfire-meandering meditations on shooting stars and loose-skinned drumming straight out of a buffalo fur coats and angora chaps out-take. In the hands of a less pedigree band, this would represent a severe raised eyebrows moment and a glance around to check out for evidence of irony-shrapnel, but with DMST you know it’s for real – it’s what the heck, it’s sheer bonhomie, it’s a bunch of folk getting together in a house in the country for as long as it takes to make some good music, and – well – it’s just – joyous, and why the goshdarnit not? (*severe envy mode*)
Challenging as it is, it makes equal sense to discuss the work of a band such as DMST in literary as in musical terms, since the trajectory of any of their releases resembles as much a series of chapters in an ongoing narrative as a collection of individual tracks. And, if GY!BE is the Tolstoy of the Constellation label, DMST has to be its Chekhov – that equally clear-sighted physician and observer of the human condition whose preferred prescription for our self-evident commitment to the road to perdition headache is to tease us all into lightening up a little.