Nov 13, 2009 Issue #28 Fall 2009 - Monsters of Folk
These New England mad scientists have spent much of their time creating tribal, creepy soundscapes that defy description, at times bringing to mind contemporary post-rock meandering, early industrial, late psychedelia, or soundtrack music. The music is injected with a palpable tension. Call it sexual, existential, spiritual—no matter, there is a real unease and darkness that permeates their work. They ride it like a wave.
On Climb Up, Apse has figured out how to command the stuff, shaping those soundscapes into songs. Robert Toher's weird, warbling vocals are now mixed like vocals rather than ghostly textures. Grooves are allowed to exist, as are major chords. If the album's title refers to the band's own ascent from the murky musical swamp it inhabits, it's entirely appropriate. There are even moments of pop, such as the snappy "3.1," which utilizes—gasp—a disco beat. "Closure" is Apse at their most upbeat, a three-chord pop tune cloaked in their trademark spooks. The slow building "Tropica" wouldn't be out of place on a Spiritualized album. "Rook" turns into a four-on-the-floor rocker, as does "The Age" when it hits climax.
Mind you, all the newfound levity is run through the group's skewed filter, and Toher's gothic musings aren't likely to turn into cloying radio sap any time soon. It's not as if the avant-dirge tendencies have been left by the wayside, they're just increasingly tarnished with melody. The group seems to let a new set of tendencies take prominence: taut post-punk rhythm section moments, gospel organs and triumphant vocal performances, three-chord vamping, acoustic guitar strumming, the profusion of classical instruments, and plenty more. The result is electrifying. Climb Up is Apse at their most accessible, but it still reveals itself in layers—another singular album from a singular band. (www.apsemusic.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 9/10