Yup. I tracked down the leak of this album. It took maybe two minutes. I’ll still be buying the 180gm vinyl with the bonus 7”. That should be evidence enough of how much I like this record. When ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ came out in 2002 I found it to be a touch unsatisfying and fatigued-sounding. In retrospect it’s no surprise that they took a lengthy hiatus after touring in support of it—it had absolutely no reason to not be great—‘Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls’ and ’9-15-00’ were both featured prominently during their 2000 tour in support of ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’ and were consistent set standouts and the album was recorded by Steve Albini. The truth is that how could a nine-person ensemble playing music as emotionally intense as this on as consistently rigorous touring schedules not get to a point of burnout after such a lengthy run? I recall reading an interview in a fanzine (remember those?) where Efrim Menuck stated quite matter-of-factly, “Yeah, we’re a nine person band. We argue a lot. With that many people involved in anything there are going to be clashes.” The non-news of a hiatus (I remember a two-year long black hole of updates in the wake of their 2003 tour before the words ‘hiatus’ even appeared on their website) was finally broken last year with a brief but highly effective set of tour stops. Having caught them at the Vic here in town I found that it appeared to have reinvigorated them in ways I hadn’t imagined. Their local stop proved to be more intense than when I’d seen them in London in 2000 in support of what I’ve always considered to be their strongest recorded effort (2000’s ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’).
While ‘’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ is still not strong enough to dethrone the sprawling ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists…’ (kind of a heavy task as it’s like a 90-minute statement of eternal purpose) as their best record, it certainly stacks up as their most lean and effective to date. It’s built on four tracks—two of them within the 20-minute range and two more clocking in as more focused ambient drones. The juxtaposition of scale between the four tracks plays up to the band’s greatest strengths of recognizing the impact of both huge, theatrical moments of epically unhinged emotional setpieces and tiny, spare snapshots of beautiful, overlooked moments. ‘Mladic’ (aka 'Albanian' in old setlists) is one of the new tracks I saw them play at the Vic last March. In a rare turn of circumstance I find the recorded version to be longer, yet more focused and satisfying. It makes clear what they’ve done with the track since revisiting it over seven years on, as it was started in 2003. ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’ had seen previous live incarnations as well (titled ‘Gamelan’ on previous setlists) and is one of my favourite extended tracks of theirs since the fourth track of ‘Lift Yr Skinny Fists…’. The production is invigorated, raw and incredibly emotional. They have always been a band that has excelled at capturing the emotional impact that their music has on tape, but this record seems to be one of the best examples of their skill at this so far. I’m particularly fond of the earlier half of ‘Mladic’ as it pounds away for nearly half of the length as a two chord drone worthy of the Warlocks in their more hypnotic moments.
All-in-all it seems to deliver on the promise of the announcement of their reunion last year. In spades. While I’d been overjoyed to hear that I’d get to see them live again I felt doubtful that they would be putting out any new music. Now that I’ve heard the results that doubt seems incredibly foolish to me. There couldn’t be a better foundation laid for their second act as a band.
Click here to read the review of their show at the Vic in March.