Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Brown Book: Thirty Nothing

Soon after writing about Grails, I was sent a CD by The Brown Book, a particularly heavy combination of melody and drone that avoids metal trappings. Given their speed and the moments of drum-stick raising nods, it's hard to imagine how they keep it all under control. There is a unique use of reference material, from Robert Fripp to Battles. But what I admire about The Brown Book is the ability to use rock chords to generate walls of noise without everything blurring at the edges like so many My Bloody Valentine clones.

I realize I have said this a number of times, but to hear experimental music that is delightfully heavy without wallowing in the ubiquitous morass of volcanic sludge is a joyful experience. The Brown Book is characterized by chance moments of elegance and remarkable musicianship. You can hear the comradery, which for the listener is like getting to be a fly on the wall of some secret fraternity where the brothers ritually make fantastic noise in order to evoke their own unique kind of transcendence. When you crack open the alchemist's stone and the light of the gods rushes out, it's a mighty good idea to have some guitars on hand to channel all that energy.

As I was listening to Thirty Nothing, my doorbell rang and snapped me back to my normal consciousness. At the door was a quiet young man tenderly holding a bible. He was achingly shy, and tentatively held out a little pamphlet announcing an Easter event. I explained that we were actually celebrating Passover, and he respectfully pulled back the pamphlet. It made me realize again there are all these different narratives we each possess about some aspect of the world. This week is about that peculiar narrative of a group of slaves (slaves who also possess a very specific knowledge of building and artifice that even their masters didn't have) who find their way to freedom. These builders eventually make it to their promised land where they again will construct another great wonder of the world, a temple like the ones they were forced to build was also intended to be a house for their god. (And even after the temple is built, King Solomon exclaims, "How can anything contain you?")

Music also is a construction of certain elements, using a craft, that attempts to contain some idea or feeling. And with something like The Brown Book, you can hear the way the intent is straining at the seams, like these guys know that at some point it's all artifice, but artifice (and story, and myth, and ritual) is all we have. So they go at it anyway, and it sounds like it might overtake them, but again, like any strong community, they withstand it together, even as they build it up, and afterward there is something to point to, to say, "We did the best we could to give that ineffable thing a form," but we could only do it together.

--The Brown Book: Deer Heads

--And you can buy it here