If any band can rightly be called a project, then I suggest it is Grails. One of many bands to come out of Portland, Oregon – a place which is consistently rated the best city in the world for mountain bikers to live, it is also a production line for alternative musical talent. The four fixed members of the band – all multi instrumentalists – Emil Amos, Alex Hall, Bill Slater and Zak Riles (who plays on only one track on this new album) have various side projects and other bands to which they belong - Om, Jackie O Motherfucker, M. Ward among others.
I think that variety is probably what keeps Grails’ music so fresh, given that they play a variant of instrumental post rock (occasionally labelled as art rock) infused with many influences from Native American vibe to Eastern cadences to 60’s psych, it seems each new album has a distinctive twist.
'Deep Politics' has a heavier emphasis on keyboards, and piano in particular, with an epic scale to many of the songs, which makes them seem like weird movie soundtracks. Indeed, I recommend the videos of these songs and, in particular, the videos to 'Daughters Of Bilitis' (don’t let your Gran catch you watching the last 15 seconds though) and 'I Led Three Lives' – both also terrific songs.
The videos really do add another dimension to the development of the ideas – perhaps making up for the lack of lyrics – with an exploration of the context of each song and often a markedly different musical form too. Despite the myriad influences, the complexity of the music is never daunting and I found myself easily drawn into the dramatic core of the album, which rewards being heard in its entirety.
From brooding opener 'Future Primitive' with its Celtic melody lines to the almost pastoral closer 'Deep Snow', it’s a very accomplished piece of work. Grails are becoming veterans of the form, but their approach ensures that their music is never stale.
Grails are rapidly becoming one of my favourite bands of all time and the quality and depth of their output is really amazing. This album is a worthy successor to 'Black Tar Prophecies', 'Doomsdayer's Holiday' and 'Take Refuge In Clean Living'. An output very few others can match.
MP3 DOWNLOAD: Grails - 'I Led Three Lives' (courtesy of Temporary Residence records)
Purchase 'Deep Politics' from Temporary Residence, Amazon.co.uk, iTunes etc.