Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Album of the Week: Do Make Say Think Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn

It's snowing right now, with a nasty cutting wind to boot, and two hours ago a friend informed me that his father died after battling cancer for two years. I didn't really know what to say to him, other than "I'm sorry", but I also added that he's probably sick of hearing people tell him they're sorry. It's these kind of situations where you realize language will always fail: nothing you say can or could make that person feel better or help you understand. Sometimes a picture isn't worth a thousand words, because those words can never fully capture what seeing the picture is like for each person. So, the weather is nasty and I feel bad for my friend, and no album seems to capture what I'm feeling with words, so I reach for something instrumental, because music transcends.

Right now, Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn is spinning on my record player, and it's exactly what I need, like the aural equivalent of a bowl of hot soup. However, I find that instrumental music is hard to talk about because you end up with a series of florid, poetic descriptions of sound that still don't come close to capturing what it really is. I could tell you that the first track, 'Fredericia', starts out with a sound like a whale moaning over and over before little fish begin peaking in and around the whale, finally passing it up entirely and climbing to the surface where sunlight breaks the silence. Yet if you listened to it, you might picture it or explain it entirely differently. Yet I can't think of another, better way to talk about the album, so bear with me if I descend into a thousand word exchange rate for each song. But I digress.

Of all the post-rock bands going today, only Explosions in the Sky can compete with Do Make Say Think in my book. Old standard bearers like Tortoise, Mogwai, Godspeed, et. al. are still releasing music that ranges from "digging the same hole in different directions" to "actually great, but not groundbreaking." Yet something about the melodies, dynamics, instrumentation, and the unexplainable sound pictures these two bands paint transcends their forefathers.

Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn is divided roughly into thirds, and on the vinyl, completely into thirds--the fourth side is blank. Each side is three songs long, and represents each titular "hymn", though the album's sound doesn't drastically change between each. What I mean is, the first third of the album--"Winter Hymn"--doesn't sound any more or less wintery to me than the other two.

The band's sound ranges the usual post-rock gamut from quiet, almost ambient moments to out-and-out, all instruments to 11 rocking. Do Make Say Think also features brass/horns/woodwinds, as well as violin, and--lest I forget--a healthy spoonful of rustic folk/acoustic aesthetics. Which makes sense, given that the band often records in rural surroundings, like farmhouses or barns owned by family and friends. And if any of it sounds slightly familiar, well, some of the members of Do Make Say Think contribute to Broken Social Scene, that monolithic Canadian collective, so some aesthetic traces show up in both camps.

The only basis for comparison I have for Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn is You, You're A History In Rust, their most recent release. That was one of my favorite albums of 2007, but I would have to say, I think Hymn is better. Sometimes a band just nails it, for lack of a better explanation--the songs are there, the melodies are there, and it sounds incredible, plain and simple. It's the difference, to use another example, between a great live jazz album and an average one. There's just something about it that you love and can't explain. Words can't convey what 'Outer Inner & Secret' makes me feel when it gets to the series of crescendos built on top of thudding drums and two-note guitars, rising and falling and giving me goosebumps. It's like...well, it's like what certain hymns do to my Mom. You feel magical, spiritual, and beyond words.

The music of Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn is the music of blinding snowfalls, late summer country sunsets, and the little things you hum to yourself, unconsciously, when you're feeling beside yourself with some overwhelming emotion. Please, do yourself a favor and get this album.

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