Gregor Samsa - Rest
Record Label: The Kora Records
Release Date: April 1, 2008 (digital); May 13, 2008 (hardcopy)
The little known Virginia based group Gregor Samsa’s third full-length album Rest fits comfortably into the post-rock, ambient, and shoegazing genres thanks to the utilization of soft mostly piano-led songs accompanied by orchestral movements, electronic effects, minimal percussion and the twin vocals of Champ Bennett and Nikki King. The vocal partnership is a greatly effective one; Bennett’s voice is brooding and soothing, and King’s vocals are harmonic and majestic. The band’s combined sound creates a beautiful atmosphere and an astounding aesthetic beauty, and combined with excellent songwriting and simple but effective lyrics that match the music perfectly, create an excellent piece of grandiose progressive music.
The album title Rest is extremely fitting; the album alternates between light and airy stretches based on soothing piano melodies occasionally fortified by an orchestra, and more sombre and atmospheric stretches incorporating deeper and more pounding piano tones with basic percussion and occasional guitar rhythms. The vocals are delivered in a decidedly soft style, at times closer resembling whispers than singing. It almost seems like an album designed for winter nights, with the softness of the music coupled with the melancholic overtones. The simple beauty of opener “The Adolescent,” charming closer “Du Meine Leise,” and especially the remorsefully fantastic “Pseudonyms” are delivered with such levels of sincerity and beauty that they almost bring a tear to the eye. The heavier moments on the album, such as the thumping “Abutting, Dismantling” and the progressive “First Mile, Last Mile,” despite being two of the album’s weaker tracks, do work well in counterbalance to the lighter songs. “Ain Leuh” draws the line between the two extremes with a song that is both lasting and at the same time light and immersive.
The most striking element of Rest is that, much like the Icelandic trailblazers of post-rock Sigur Rós, or the equally prolific though more avant-garde Goodspeed You! Black Emperor, the album creates a world around itself. Album opener “The Adolescent,” a near perfect opener which personifies all the best elements of the band’s sound sensationally, slowly pulls the listener into this fantastic world of lush imagery, beautiful melodies, and some simply delightful songs. The expansive “Jeroen Van Aken” is perhaps the best example of the band’s genius. The standout element of “Jeroen” is its powerful chorus, one of the heavier moments of the album with very audible percussion and King’s distorted cries of “It seems the devil’s got a grip on me.” The track is extremely methodical and melancholic, although towards the end there appears a glimmer of hope as Bennett and King insists that despite numerous obstacles, including war, governments, and rain, they won’t break. The song is bookended by two short near-instrumental compositions, the first of which, “Company,” which is completely instrumental, is a beautifully arranged piece of melodic electronica. In contrast, “Rendered Yards” features a brief extract of King’s vocals working as the backdrop to a simply delightful xylophone and electronic effects driven track.
The overall appeal of Rest is that this is pretty much as soft as rock music can be while still being rock. But what the album lacks in memorable guitar hooks, gripping choruses and strong percussion, it more than makes up for with an outstanding sense of melody, a beautiful interweaving of instruments to create a cohesive and compelling sound, and some simply outstanding progressive songwriting. There is a charm, honesty, and a sincerity about Gregor Samsa that is so lacking in much of modern music; in that sense they are the perfect embodiment of post-rock. The record is certainly not perfect; there are elements of repetition that run through the album, most noticeably in the vocal melodies, and it is definitely an album designed for a certain type of mood and time of year, which sadly the album hasn’t been released in. But these imperfections do not in any significant way dampen a record that is a true tour-de-force of ambient rock and a resounding triumph. Put simply, Rest is one of the most beautiful and immersive albums you will hear all year and deserves to be heard by anyone who appreciates rock’s more experimental side.
I clicked on this because of the Kafka reference and wound up (to my surprise) really enjoying the band. This review is really well written, one of the best I've read on here in quite some time, if not ever. Nice work.