Call Back the Giants - "Passage of Arms" (The Rising)
The Shadow Ring made epic strangeness out of the most mundane stuff. The group may have named itself after an uncleaned coffee mug and written songs about streetlights and flooded houses, yet the archness of its recited vocals and the way those voices pushed against or through the primitively strummed guitars, minimal drum beats, and squelchy electronics served notice that this was significant shit, if only because they were bothering to say it. The Rising could use a bit more of that insistence.
Call Back The Giants is Tim Goss, the Ring’s keys and circuits guy, with help from his tween-aged daughter Chloe Mutter and (on one track) a guitarist named Rob Stewart, and The Rising is the Giants’ second LP. “Passage Of Arms,” the Jarre-like patch of synth-woosh that opens and closes it, picks right up where The Shadow Ring’s final release, Life Review, ends. But too many of the pieces in between lack the Shads’ rhythmic and vocal assertiveness that made its most rickety constructions compelling, and offer little in their stead.
The problems are concentrated on side A, which slows significantly after “Passage Of Arms.” “Lay In Line” is a melancholy etude for panned synthesizer notes, “The Rising/The Legend” a slow-flowing puddle of semi-congealed electronic goo punctuated by Goss’s muttered words and exhalations. Goss’s utterances sound like notes to self that have accidentally slipped into the musical mix, even though the music sounds like it has been organized in support of them. The music’s oddity and stasis aren’t problems; in this neck of the woods, strange and intentionally off-putting sounds can be virtuous. But the music’s passive elusiveness offers no justification for its refusal to pay off. The Shadow Ring didn’t always make sense, but it always sounded like it was pretty sure that it did, and even if you didn’t get the jokes, Graham Lambkin and crew knew just where to laugh. This stuff conveys no such sense of conviction.
Side B fairs better. “Jungle Hilton” not only introduces for the first time the much-missed cheap, nasty sound that Goss wielded so strongly in The Shadow Ring, it backs up its obscurity with some genuine mystery. It’s made up of layers that are hard to source — are those monks chanting at the back of the mix? Is that thick grey hiss rain on pavement? Wherever they come from, they push against each other to generate a tectonic tension missing from what has come before. The rest of the side picks up the pace, using either sputtering drum machines or Mr. Roberts’ delightfully inappropriate rock guitar to make the music feel more purposeful. Goss may spend most of “The Pharroh Man” simply repeating the title, but at least it sounds like he wants someone to know about it. The Shadow Ring had that intent in spades, and I hope Goss finds a bit more of it within himself before he makes another record.