Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Retail Sectors - Subject Unknown CD Review

Music is an extremely hard thing to describe within the confines of language. Music, naturally, expresses what cannot be said by words alone. It is a narrative form all its own, especially in the realm of instrumental music. Music that contains vocals can, at the least, be seen as tangentially tied to language, even if what is providing the backdrop for those words is unable to be described exactly by the use of words in the spoken or written form. All anyone can hope to do is give a sense of what emotions a particular piece of music may invoke or describe the overall tone of a particular musical effort. Language and music, to some extent, are mutually exclusive concepts, and since there is no way to bring the two together in a way through which either can properly express the other, we make due with comparisons and generalizations.

Existing in the expansive realm of post rock, the aural ambience of The Retail Sectors simultaneously breaks the mold of this genre and confines itself to the established structures of those that have come before. The majority of the album, Subject Unknown, is spent weaving different threads through the mellow, guitar oriented tapestries of the softer side of post rock. This isn’t to say that there aren’t forays into denser territory, because there are, but the vast majority of the album sees the volume knob turned down to about 5 and nowhere near the thundering end of the spectrum 10.

The exceptions to the above are “The Dread” and parts of “The Distress” and “The Decadence”. “The Dread” is actually one of the more disorientating songs on the album and feels horribly lost amongst the other nine tracks. About two minutes into the song, a heavily distorted and oddly used guitar takes center stage, hazing up the piece and making a fuzzy, noise-filled mess. Adding to the confusion of it all are some less than covert electronics that transform the already abrasive guitars into a noisy cacophony of sound.

Thankfully, when Kentaro Togawa sticks to making contemplative, mellow compositions, his creativity truly shines. Some may be concerned that there isn’t enough “substance” to the sparse openness of some of the songs, especially those that feature only the guitar, but it’s the wide open space that is becoming rarer and rarer as contemporary post rock bands are now concerned more with showing off how much they can do with their instruments, forgetting about pacing altogether. The occasional electronic element and minimalist drumming style that is interwoven throughout the album does not detract from the overall experience, as might be expected, but instead focuses the listener more on the guitar melodies and arrangements, which is no doubt what the goal of these additions were in the first place.

The Retail Sectors keeps things mellow (for the most part), opens up spatially (pretty often), and does it very elegantly (when not adding distorted tidbits to the mix). It is true that many of the movements throughout the album conform to the usual build-up, come-down, build-up, climax format of post rock, but by keeping things drawn out, it doesn't feel quite as trite. It really is a treat to stumble across an album that feels like an unexpected, heart-felt present on Christmas morning, attuned to what you really needed, not what was on your all too commercial wish list that was mailed off to Santa a week before. Subject Unknown feels all warm and cozy, which is most definitely not a bad thing.

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