The Warp Empire may've happily served up three albums worth of Gravenhurst in
the last year-and-a-shade, but just exactly what it is they've ladled onto popular
culture's collective plate remains unidentifiable for the time being. The first
Warp-cooked course of Nick Talbot's one-man band, Flashlight Seasons, found
the Bristol-based boy huddling over a slow-cooked stew brewed gentle as dew-on-grass,
the Englishmen getting dewy-eyed as his super-sentimental summoning of Bookends and Five
Leaves Left was
draped in an at-home recording quality that added to its warming woolliness.
This was followed by a newly-baked collation of collaborations, Black Holes
in the Sand, where Talbot got on the folk-revival-revival gravy train by
hooking up with homies from Charalambides-associated free-range freak-folk flock
Black Forest/Black Sea, all the banging gongs and tape hiss and ad-hoc actuality
making it seem like he'd embraced the idea of being Warp's "New-Folk" meal ticket.
Only, then, along comes Fires in Distant Buildings, a strangely rockin'
album whose list of chief ingredients would start with Slint, Pink Floyd, Iron
Butterfly, and all those Constellation bands, and whose total and utter lack
of acousticky spice makes for a strangely bland concoction. Where his prior dishes
delivered Talbot at play amidst decay and thrum and bung-notes and all else that
comes with acoustic instruments and home-recording accidents, here Talbot has
gone for a very clean, very "big" sound, unintentionally stumbling upon something
that sounds as if tape was rolled in a tunnel. With this cold tone bouncing the
electric guitars into opaque layers over murky church organ and
an incessantly insistent rhythm section, the songs are marked out with that standard
post-rock progression: start quiet, get loud, get louder, get louder, end. It's
no surprise, either, that when the songs ring their rhythms ragged and climb
to a crest at crescendo, distorted guitars are strummed over and over in
agitato fashion, sounding like a pale play on that archetypal Godspeed!-famille
guitar sound. That this all culminates in The Kinks' "See My Friends" recast
as some nine-minute prog-rock makes some sort of sense, in this curious context.
But, in the greater context of Gravenhurst's discography, what it all means is
far from being answered.