The last album I had by Grails was more of a compilation - the work of several years compressed into one excellent 45-minute journey. I'm not sure what I was expecting from this album, but whatever it was, I have been pleasantly surprised. The noodling, eclectic ephemera of Black Tar Prophecies has been replaced by a kind of Eastern European/old-school Kinski sound. It's dark, it's loud, it's layered, and it's very good. I feel that Grails now has the cred to stand on equal footing with such giants of the genre as Mogwai, Mono, Do Make Say Think, and hey why not, Godspeed. Of course, Grails doesn't have nearly the discography under their belt as, well, any of those guys. But given a little time, and given how much they have (in my opinion) improved and tightened their sound and songscaping abilities, I have faith that won't be a problem for too much longer.
The album opens slowly but strongly with "Soft Temple," introducing you to what is a theme throughout the album (and genre) - the building up of instruments, the slow twisting of dials towards that "10," and more specifically to Grails, a sort of foreboding bass section accented very well by the drums, which are played with tactful restraint. The banjo, piano, bass and tambourine make for an sound that is hard to identify as one thing or another... and in the end, that it sounds "foreign" is all that can be concluded. The album is well produced, and the soft beginning blends faultlessly into the ear-pounding crescendo without you even noticing. "Silk Road" is placed in between two atmospheric tweener tracks I could probably do without, and is a sort of drawn-out spice-seeking caravan of a song, sounding like the background music for a scimitar fight. "Outer banks" follows the mold as well, with a bouncing, insistent beat and concise drumming. The title track is probably my favorite, mating an easy-listening intro to a fantastically well-paced blowup at the end. It sounds to me like storm clouds gathering over the Gobi desert and just dumping rain and sleet on a bunch of insane monks.
This is an excellent album and even if the whole thing isn't for you, there are at least a couple songs that are pretty difficult not to like if you're even slightly into bands like those I mentioned above. These guys have a well-crafted and unique sound, like Kinski crossed with Pelt, and I mean that in the most complimentary possible sense. Give it a shot, you won't regret it. And turn that fool volume up.
bonus! This album was released on Temporary Residence, my favorite label. Go buy it!