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Do Make Say Think - Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn

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Artist: Do Make Say Think

Album: Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn

Label: Constellation

Review date: Sep. 29, 2003

Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, the latest release from Toronto post-rockers Do Make Say Think comes along at an inopportune time, with doubts about the need for another post-rock album swirling among music geeks and other interested (or at least attentive) bystanders. Whether or not there is anything interesting left to do with post-rock is not a particularly worthwhile question, although lately it appears to be an inescapable one. With the millennium safely behind us for some three years and counting, observers are likely to greet a new album from the likes of Do Make Say Think with snide indifference. In one camp we have those who believe that not only is rock dead, but that its last vestiges have been so completely removed from any discussion of vital and important music that even the reappearance of its egg-headed cousin post-rock is as embarrassing as the reappearance of Lollapalooza. In another camp, we have those insisting that rock is back – whether they cite its dance-punk, electroclash, garage, or punk form does not matter – and that the efforts of post-rockers to exploit its demise are thus premature and unnecessary. To make a long introduction short, even the grandest ambitions of Do Make Say Think and its label handlers could not turn Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn into a buzz record for 2003. A bare bones description of it – a blend of guitar rock, psychedelia, jazz, dub, and even some electronic influences – sounds deceptively heavy and self-serious, out of step with recent trends.

So much the better, really. The reason that questions about post-rock are uninteresting is that they can only have one possible answer: there is nothing interesting left to do with post-rock and that’s the end of it. A convenient answer, especially since it removes any obligation to listen to the record to see if it is actually, you know, interesting. Do Make Say Think has never seemed to be out to prove anything to anybody, however; its work has always benefited from patience. It invites multiple spins and manages to be captivating without demanding attention. Not a recipe for instantaneous success, but the band has made a modest name for itself by playing largely to receptive audiences. It has dodged the pointless debates and simply gone about making albums and playing shows.

Their three previous albums – a self-titled debut from 1998, Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord is Dead from 2000, and & Yet & Yet from 2002 – varied their formula of protracted space rock in a slightly different way each time. Their early work showed a distinct lounge influence that trumpeter Charles Spearin has jettisoned in favor of jazz. James Payment and Dave Mitchell’s drumming has also grown more assertive on later releases as the band has begun to use the crescendo dynamics of label-mates Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn continues to distill the central influences – dub, jazz, and psychedelia – into a style properly its own. There is a sense of improvisation on the album, as five of the nine tracks stretch to the seven-minute mark and are held together by the sheer willpower to coalesce five movements into a single song; there is a sense of deliberation, also, as the tape on “Frederica”, “Horns of a Rabbit”, and “It’s Gonna Rain”, was manipulated within an inch of its life in what must have been some drawn-out studio sessions; and there is finally a sense of playfulness – most prominent on the final “Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!” when a surf-rock guitar line rolls in from out of nowhere to close the album. That spirit of playfulness remains absent from the work of fellow stalwarts like Mogwai and GY!BE, and is Do Make Say Think’s real contribution to the post-rock world.

While not exactly self-evident or easy to spot, the song structures are more prevalent than before. Melodies still come in 30-second bursts, but they are in the form of instrumental riffs that are reiterated throughout the course of the song. The result allows for improvisation but keeps it on a short leash; no one could mistake the central guitar melody of “Auberge Le Mouton Noir” – it’s a hook around which the song is built – nor could they complain about it being abandoned. The band seems to have reconciled itself to composing – at least in part – instead of giving in to the jam. The results are often remarkable. “Frederica”, one of Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn’s longer cuts, builds on the tension between the steady drumming of Payment and Mitchell and Spearin’s lazy trumpet. The struggle reaches a peak at the 5:30 mark: a wave of brass instruments threaten to engulf the song before everything stops suddenly and guitar player Justin Small leads the band in creating momentum once again. Not exactly jaw dropping, but at least modestly awe-inspiring.

Sadly, a little too much use is made of the hackneyed post-rock crescendo; “Outer Inner & Secret” reaches a crescendo not once but twice. Not only is that trick overused, but it also sounds forced. Given Do Make Say Think’s unconventional melodic sense and genre-spanning influences, it is also unnecessary. The last three minutes of “Ontario Plates” could be played – honestly – on any community center’s big band night; “Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!” has a late ’60s organ riff that might be the next best thing to an acid flashback (which in itself might not actually be a good thing); there is too much invention here to simply fall into the rote progression from loud to quiet. It’s the one part of the formula they might consider tweaking for next time; zeroing in on that flaw will be a fine way to keep things interesting.

By Tom Zimpleman

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