Lymbyc Systym - Symbolyst
Record Label: Western Vinyl
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Symbolist (n): a person who uses or can interpret symbols, especially as a means to revealing aspects of truth and reality
When I was eight, my mother plopped me on the wooden piano seat in our living room every Saturday morning for lessons. I hated those times: the exasperation of my teacher every time I fumbled a note, the snore-inducing pieces in my beginner level book, and the overall feeling that what I was doing was just lame. In the heat of those young July days, I felt like the least cool kid ever, playing awkward little nursery rhymes with my disapproving teacher hanging over me like an inescapable cloud.
If only I were as cool as Lymbyc Systym.
That would be Michael and Jared Bell, the pair of brothers from Arizona who have carved out a niche in the post-rock community (though their work defies the connotations of that word): their last work, 2009’s Shutter Release, took a step towards a hybrid of classic rock and orchestral, marrying the catchy, immediately relatable song structures of the former with the epic, sweeping emotions of the latter. The result? A sound that was as cathartic and thoughtful as it was catchy and relentlessly entertaining. With Symbolyst, their third and latest release, the band has proven eight-year-old me wrong once again: there is beauty to be found in the simple things. They have zeroed in on the very best parts of their sound and adapted it to a flurry of different emotions and environments, resulting in their most exciting, compelling, and lively work to date.
Opener “Prairie School” introduces a plinking melody that wouldn’t have been out of place in my old piano workbook before immediately crushing it under an ebullient hip-hop beat and warm, bubbly synth chords: despite how immediate the impact of the music is, the structure of the track defies expectations, jumping between loud and quiet seamlessly and raising the stakes each time it cycles back to the beginning. Despite its simple structure, the song finds time to sneak in a lot of fun details; listen carefully and you can actually hear the four-note melody that snakes throughout the song disintegrating, first glitching out at inopportune times before snapping back into place, and later just winding off in the background, untethered and completely free. A fitting progression for a song that shakes things up just a little bit every time you revisit the beginning.
If there is one thing Lymbyc Systym excel at, it is progression: taking songs to conclusions that are as stirring as they are well-constructed. Early standout “Downtime” stuns with the distance it travels, starting off as a solemn if groovy tune before handclaps and a woozy flute sample bring it into a cheerier place. The finale is even better, as an assault of drums send the low-flier soaring. The track would have been dazzling if it had ended there, but instead, it takes us for another go around the park—and the climb and drop into noisy, passionate fervor is even better the second time. The more subdued “Falconer” builds to a majestic climax of its own, built on an electronica base that starts off quiet and grows throughout the track and playful strings that sting instead of cloy.
“Falling Together” is perhaps the best track here, the entirety of Lymbyc Systym’s ouvere condensed into four minutes of genre roulette. A hazy synth backdrop sets the stage for a full on drum and bass assault before everything is stripped, leaving only a gorgeous piano line—and that’s only the midway mark of the song! The fusion of hip-hop and orchestral builds the track back up, before everything sinks into the sheer madness of a toybox’s worth of instruments playing against each other. It shouldn’t make sense, and yet all the pieces fit perfectly, even when the elaborate constructions they are a part of crumble into inspired insanity.
The front half of Symbolyst plays as a one-two-three-four-five punch of cerebral, sugary electrorchestrock pop (define that word yourself), but the back half begins to simmer down a bit. That isn’t to say that it’s any weaker, but if the first five tracks are all about Lymbyc Systym reaping the rewards of the style they have honed over six years’ worth of recordings, the five in the back are about the band trying to stretch that style to find warmth in darker spaces as well. The result is solemn pieces like “Condense”, which puts the piano at the foreground for the first time in the band’s history. The melody is incredibly simple, one of the simplest the band has written, but the production lets it resonate like a church bell, and the writing places it in the center of a rousing orchestra. The result is how I wish all of my piano lessons would have sounded, a piece that has its gaze set solely on the illuminated future even as it sighs wistfully for the past. “Wave”, a two-minute intermission, carries the torch into even more nostalgic territory with strings straight out of a Lifetime movie. The track refuses to be pitied, however, rising ever higher in spite of the mournful melody it has to carry, swooping rather than wallowing. Lymbyc Systym are looking to exorcise the demons that lurk in the shadows of their music with their sudden foray into moodier territory, and they largely succeed through their barren sentimentality.
Closing out Symbolyst, we get a pair of two of the more experimental tracks Lymbyc Systym have produced. “Dragon Year” is the longest cut on an album where most songs clock in at around three or four minutes, but it oddly feels the least epic. Instead of offering the immediate octane rush of the album’s early climactic creations, the track takes it time exploring a variety of different hooks. Though it lacks the sonic power of some of the other songs here, it’s an understated gem of a track that shines due to the Bell brothers’ intricate songwriting and commitment to melodies that more jaded musicians would scrap for being too childish. Closer “In Transit” lays off on the electronics, relying mostly on the plucks of the acoustic guitar to provide a foundation. Despite its gentle nature, the song still shows a bit of the band’s signature bombast near the end, effectively bridging the heightened world of Symbolyst back to ours without much conflict.
And bridging is what Lymbyc Systym does throughout Symbolyst, really: just look at the title of the album. Symbolism in its ideal form is not about majesty or greatness: it’s taking the things we look over every day and imbuing them with truth and life. It’s two brothers bridging the gap between things we threw away a long time ago and the emotions we wish we could revisit. And to me, it’s the toils of a third-grader banging on the notes of a wooden piano. He can’t get the chords to work together, his fingers are dripping with sweat, and his teeth are clenching in frustration. He slams his hands on the keys and sighs for a second. And then a devious smile forms on his lips as he raises his hands and begins his conquest one more time.