Black Blood of the Earth
(2009, Magic Goat/American West Freedom Society)
RIYL = Stag Hare, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Animal Hospital, Mount Eerie by Microphones
Let me start off by saying that there are very few musicians who have established themselves with enough artistic credibility to merit the production of a release that consist of a single album length track. Some of the heavyweights who come to mind on this extremely short list are Keith Fullerton Whitman, Birchville Cat Motel and Gavin Bryars - not exactly beginners when it comes to music composition. There are at least a couple reasons why this is an arena only fit for a very limited few, the first being the value of time. Asking someone to endure an album length track in one sitting requires quite an investment from a listener. This is especially true in an era when most people don’t have forty-five minutes to an hour to give up in a regular work day. Then, when you do find someone with the time and interest to consume a single album length track in one sitting, it usually requires some type of prescription drug to keep them from aborting the task out of a lack of patience or a fill of anxiety. Secondly, who is to say that this forty-five minutes to an hour of music is going to be any good? Even amongst the recordings put to tape by those with a healthy back catalog of consistently great records, the album lengthed track can prove a stumbling block; an artsy, self-conscious striving that fails to maintain interest or intrigue and barely carries the weight of even a single listen. I was a little afriad of listening to this Silver Antlers debut because of these reasons and especially since the album takes a quite a bit of time to pick up and get going. However, I am glad that I did. Turns out Silver Antlers is a fairly adept musician and Black Blood of the Earth is a more-than-impressive debut worthy of many repeated listens. So, if my little preface didn’t clue you in you should understand that Black Blood of the Earth is a single fifty-two minute opus that, against all odds, is engaging and insanely good. Silver Antlers starts things off slowly with a repetitious vocal motif that reminded me a little bit of The Besnard Lakes mumbling over some standard guitar swirls. At about the seven minute mark this vocal arrangement has departed and is replaced some more prevalent guitar patterns and wordless, disembodied vocals. Pretty standard fare so far. It is at this transition that a bit of beauty seeps in to propel you forward. From here, Black Blood rises and swells majestically, harkening moves from the late great Godspeed You Black Emperor. Then things really start to pick up at about the twenty minute mark when some propulsive drumming is added to the mix and the flow turns from lovely river to blistering locomotive. Along with some additional vocal incantations, this drumming and the accompanying guitar seemed to have stolen the essence of Mount Eerie, my favourite album from The Microphones. This is a good thing. Silver Antlers doesn’t seem to be afraid of his influences which helps Black blood of the Earth use these reference points as building blocks for wholly new creation. The album seems to be constructed on a few different movements, each with their own compelling rhythm and instrumentation, each flowing into the next with added strength and beauty. The awesome part about Black Blood of the Earth is that it never stops surprising with continuously climactic moments that progressively one-up the previous high. In fact, the most impressive moments coalesce with a powerful push that begins about thirty-five minutes in and uses the remaining time to fully flesh out its tribal drumming, buzzing guitar attack and gorgeous violins before fizzling and fading away with the wind. Honestly, those final fifteen minutes are among the best musical moments I’ve heard all year. This is an album that is definitely worth the effort required. Still, there are certainly instances here which lend themselves to track separation. I can’t help but wonder what separating this piece into even just two or three tracks would do for Silver Antlers’ listenership, because as it stands, Black Blood of the Earth is one of the most memorable listening experiences I’ve had this year.