It’s almost hard to imagine a set of musicians making an album like this anymore. In this day of fast paced, fast produced, overly-glossed Super Bowl half-time shows where sparklers and space suits take the place of music and craft, no one is supposed to care about their art anymore. No one is supposed to create music of this tenor. It’s all about the quick buck. All about the download. The YouTube clip.
Well let me be the first to tell you, any YouTube clip from these New Jersey natives, The World Concave, will never eclipse 1,000,000 hits. Few of the short-attention-span web cruisers would dare to have the patience to let even one track from this album unfold. Harbor goes against everything that is “the way” in the music industry today.
Perhaps that’s why I’m so in love with this album.
Recently Robbers dropped a soul-searching bomb on me like this. Before that, years past, The Blue Nile used to routinely break convention with a similar works of somber beauty. Today, we have The World Concave.
This is an album of hidden beauty. An album that doesn’t just reward repeat listenings, it requires them. To “get” this album, I had to peel back all the preconceptions of my stoner/metal mind, clear out the clutter and the noise and allow the album to become my world. I had to step inside it, as if it was some magical kingdom inside the wardrobe. And once I did, a vision of fantastic lushness opened to greet me.
Guitars chime and layer and percolate. Bass leads in gently; no pushing, just gently pulling — drawing me closer. Piano keys clink and resonate with stark isolation and beauty. Drums don’t pound as much as they provide a heartbeat, a pulse. Meanwhile, airy vocals float above it all like a celestial being, shining down upon all creation.
Nothing is rushed with this album. Each note is given space to inhale and breath, as if taking a life of it’s own. Ambient space is just as important an instrument in this work as is the guitar or bass.
And that brings up one of the many dichotomies and contradictions of the album. For all of it’s space and airiness, Harbor is actually crushingly heavy. In tone, in mood, in lyric. Despite it’s beauty, this isn’t an album of light and joy and promise. It’s an album of open wounds and exposed nerves. In many ways, Harbor is as heavy as many metal albums, and in many ways, Harbor is more daring than many metal albums. Rather than relying on force or growling or ferocity to convey angst, The World Concave display their pain amongst tickling pianos and hushed tones.
Trust me, that can me much more powerful than some tattooed guy screaming at me. Lost amongst the gorgeous harmonics of the guitar and brushed drums, “4:44 A.M.” drops in lyrical bombs like “I wish I could escape/ my body’s been abused/ in nature’s way a fuck you.” Not what you’d expect to hear, and that’s the point.
The violence lies in the peace. The despair hides in the beauty. It’s in that dichotomy that the album works so well. Think of it as ambient metal. Metal sans the noise, just the tone.
And none of this talk of “space” and “beauty” and “airy” really means that these guys can’t rock out. They don’t do it very often, but when they do, it’s all the more powerful because of the time it took to get there. Beginning with “4.44 AM.” around 3:00 in, the guitar tone suddenly changes. It’s subtle and only lasts for about 10 seconds, but damn is it heavy. It’s ominous, like some nearing beast, a threatening breath upon the nape of my neck, a deathly cold hand placed on my shoulder. Then, as quickly as it emerged, it’s gone, back to the acoustic picking. The hushed tones. But still, in the back of my mind it lingers.
“Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program,” picks up where those haunting tones left off. Echoing guitar leads us in, as if walking though a darkened haze. Suddenly, the pace picks up with some serious time shifts and strumming guitar. It all seems so effortless, as the melody picks up into what is probably the most immediate song on the album. Gorgeous harmony vocals float through the mix, like some disembodied spirit, not sure if it wants to join the proceedings or not. “You think I’m lost/just leave me lost,” our narrator moans, tossing away the leaflet advertising his true savior. Then, as we near the end, we get the explosion. “I’ll find my meadow without your cattle run!” the vocals urge. Finally, we have the payoff we’ve been waiting for. Brief again, but the anger and emotion in that vocal passage makes it all worthwhile. With the drums driving underneath, the pace is intense, as is the mood.
I’ve already written more than I intended to, so let’s be brief. “I Sold My Life,” has just a freaking fantastic structure, with it’s neo-jazzy framework, layered acoustic piano, and stuttering drums and bass. Probably the best vocals, and some gorgeous female harmonies as well. Simply a killer song full of despondency and pain, but tempered by the sheer beauty of the arrangement. “Personal Day,” is one of the more languid tracks with it’s near chill-funk bass, ambient tones, and is truly worthy of anything The Blue Nile ever did. Toss in some polyrhythmic percussion and a truly memorable line “I’m taking a personal day”, and we got another winner.
“Holiday,” and “Digging The Honest Dirt” keep the dynamic tension high with alternating passages of gentle splendor and tempered aggression, all leading to the ambient-jazzy instrumental outro.
Harbor definitely isn’t an album for every mood, time or day, but when that proper time and space come about, I’ll have a hard time finding an album I’ll reach for quicker.