Thursday, January 22, 2009

Best of 2008: #4. Up-C Down-C Left-C Right-C ABC + Start - Embers

Up-C Down-C Left-C Right-C ABC + Start are an instrumental post-rock four-piece from Kent, in south-eastern England. Embers is the group's second full-length release, a magnificently emotional album that conjures up all kinds of disparate scenes - of reconciliation, of escape, of mourning - as if they were happening right in front of your eyes. Every song here seems to tell a tale of its own, with ten tales of life, love, and loss being revealed with each sweeping guitar lick, each gentle yet forceful pluck of a string.

It begins with the short and cacophonous "Embers and Ashes", which acts as a sort of overture for Embers, jetting around through violins, bells, drums and the like, all of which are sampled from the rest of the album. This leads into the ethereal progression seen at the beginning of "Get to the Chopper", which is slow, yet decidedly desperate, as if it is the invisible hand that guides along some climactic action scene filmed almost entirely in slow motion. The guitars move from being plucked gently to being enforced with powerful electric feedback as the proposed movie climaxes, then denoues as the drums move back from the precipice of immediate peril. John Woo would be proud.

"Our Flowers" is like a wordless love story, starting off gentle yet distant, but eventually becoming more furious, more blissful, as if simultaneously calling to mind all the powerful memories that such passion can evoke. There are some fantastic riffs on display here as well, as the band show off their talent for writing memorable and catchy hooks by clearly emphasizing the tone of the guitar during breaks.

Beginning with a jubilant violin, "Murmurs Pt. 2" is the evidential second part to a story we haven't yet received the beginning of. Eventually the song enters into a loop worthy of the very best of Explosions in the Sky, evoking feelings of love and passion lost long ago, bittersweet memories that feel better for having existed, and a perplexing mixture of joyousness and sorrow. But ultimately, joy wins out, and the song is given a reconciliatory tone, the kind reserved for former best friends or lovers, people that you haven't seen in years.

"New Chapters" is a minute-long piano-lead interlude, its tone and title both suggesting different things ahead. Indeed, the next track, "McDoomish" brushes off the romantic connotations of its predecessors for an angier, more embittered tone. Rising to metallic levels of heaviness at points, "McDoomish" plays like a discordant counter-part to the valiant action of "Get to the Chopper", except instead of suggesting the kind of victory befitting of heroism, it suggests failure instead. It suggests that if any victory were to be found, it would be Pyrrhic in nature, marred by the ultimate consequences. As the intensity rises, the electric guitars pick up strength, and the song becomes flooded with industrial-strength distortion, remaining pretty only in the sense that tragedy can be considered entertainment.

"Murmurs Pt. 1", like its counter-part, begins with a violin, its crooning reminiscent of a wedding song, with the tender and mesmerizing touch of the guitars following supporting this idea of love at the center of it. This builds, and the song erupts with explosive fury, peaking with unmitigated levels of aggression. Yet what follows comes off as almost sad, a mixture of the bittersweet that enveloped the second part, only faster, louder, and angrier; if "Murmurs Pt. 2" is The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, this can be likened to Those Who Tell the Truth.... This is the break-up or falling out that leads to the reconciliation.

"Cascades" is a more delicate slice of harmony, the song taking on that treble-heavy pitch that should be well-known by now. The beginning lull however gives rise to a menacing crescendo, and the full ferocity of the guitars is unleashed, with the drums playing an adamant ode to the drummer boy who stands among the soldiers, a willing target in a war he can't fight.

"Fireflies" takes the ominous, doom-ish style of "McDoomish" and builds on it, taking on a more up-tempo/grandiose style. The climaxes sound like something created by Red Sparowes; if "Cascades" is a march to war, then this is the battlefield. Blisteringly fast and destructively loud, the song surrounds and suffocates the listener, the smothering intensity of the noise acting like a python's coils around its prey.

The last song on Embers is "The Creeping Fear", a long, epic, cello-lead dirge. The percussion sounds like the crashing rip of thunder through a night's sky, raining down amongst the slow, crushing weight of the guitars. New sounds tumble tumultuously from every remaining crevice that isn't already covered in noise, the deafening din only relenting for the haunting veraciousness of the cello. This is the funeral; the end of all things. And while it mournfully fades out of the picture, it never leaves our memory.

What is amazing about this album isn't just that it manages to conjure so many emotions, but rather that it conjures them with such intensity. Love is possibly the most powerful emotion known to us, and yet it is displayed so vividly as to be unmistakable for what it is. So too, are the feelings of loss, of sadness, of bittersweet recollections and pining for better times. In this sense, Embers is a triumph: a reminder that there is still music out there with the kind of emotional resonance that can encourage us to seek out the beauty in our lives, however fleeting.

No comments: