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Pelican - Australasia

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Artist: Pelican

Album: Australasia

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: Dec. 14, 2003

Real aficionados of heavy music know that it’s not just about the volume. Any jackass can step on a distortion box and play through huge stacks. No, the real stuff is about density, weight, and movement – it’s about feel, and Pelican know all about that. The band – guitarists Laurent Lebec and Trevor de Brauw along with fraternal rhythm machine bassist Larry and drummer Bryan Herweg – pursue a vocal-less obsession with heaviness. Their eponymous EP – initially self-released, then picked up by the excellent Hydrahead label – was a dense compendium of bottom-heavy riffage and taut structure. Those strengths are still here on the band’s debut full-length, but they’ve been recontextualized in a wider range of moody atmospherics, acoustic rumination (most obvious here on the sweeping untitled fifth track, whose whistling slide almost generates a high lonesome vibe), and an almost cinematic sense of album-length pacing.

After the slight electro-acoustic opening to “Nightendday,” the four dive deep into a lumbering leviathan of a groove. One thing that struck me right away – and continues to during the almost constant rotation I’m giving this album – is how they have expanded their harmonic range and, in so doing, have given their powerful music a real emotional jolt. I find this music to be fantastically rocking but also unexpectedly moving (particularly the anthemic “Angel Tears”). But studying this album reveals another key to Pelican music: the organic nature of their playing. There are all kinds of subtle fluctuations and oscillations of tempo, attack, and feel in this music. Whereas some bands specialize in almost mechanical precision, Pelican’s changes and structures are warm, human, and really affecting.

While the overall heaviness, in many ways similar to the superb Isis, generates somewhat dark moods and imagery, Pelican ain’t afraid of a sunny major-chord fantasy like the brief “GW.” It all comes together on the chugging “Drought,” where the moving slabs of sound have something of the nearly geologic heft conjured up by the album’s title, and the wide-open landscape of the closing title track. The Evanston fellers have just come off the Champions of Sound tour with labelmates from Hydrahead and Tortuga, and it seems like they’re just beginning to tap a rich musical vein.

By Jason Bivins

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