Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cleanse Your Spirit: Bodies of Water's A Certain Feeling

I'm still kicking myself for not actually talking to the L.A. band Bodies of Water when I saw them open for Sons & Daughters in Toronto earlier this year. Instead, I hung about like a vagrant outside the venue, surreptitiously watching them duck in and out of their trailer and take photos of the gig poster. You see, I was embarrassingly early for the gig, and was literally the first and only audience member for at least twenty minutes after the doors opened. So, rather than skulk next to the door and slightly shivering, I should have attempted to engage Bodies of Water in some sort of conversation. In the end, I only spoke to them when I bought their debut album, Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink, off them directly after the show. They seemed very sweet, but I being a dunderhead, will never truly know. At any rate, their second album, A Certain Feeling, is due out this coming Tuesday, and I'm counting myself very lucky that I got to see them live, and in fact, performing Gold, Tan, Peach and Grey from this album.

Bodies of Water fall somewhere between the power and cultishness of the Polyphonic Spree and Arcade Fire, but unlike those two bands, Bodies of Water only use four people to generate their massive sound and spine-tingling atmosphere. Of their opening slot for Sons & Daughters, I wrote:

For only four people, they create a choir of voices, filling the small venue with waves of beautiful sound. Their songs are long and meandering, switching time signatures several times before ending, but it never gets tedious; instead, you feel like you're accompanying them on a journey that no one has mapped out yet, but is bound to be filled with serendipity and wonder. Styles seamlessly moved from gospel to reggae to latin to operatic epic.

Of course, the recent departure of drummer/vocalist, Jessie Conklin, may shift things a bit for live performances and/or future recordings, but to fill a venue with such palpable emotion without the aid of matching robes or the waving of flags, was/is a grand achievement. A Certain Feeling is certainly on par with their debut with perhaps a slicker production, which I'm not one to find fault with.

The album begins with the magnificent Gold, Tan, Peach and Grey, which starts rather subtly with guitarist David Metcalf's tenuous, evangelical vocals, but when the rest join in for the "oh-oh-oh's," the song launches into a whole new level. And just when you think it can't get any more intensely beautiful, Meredith Metcalf, who also plays organ, sings a counter-melody over top of the "oh's," pushing her voice into a breathless, implosive force, and then the song shifts into a driving, chanting juggernaut. The following track, Under the Pines, which can also be streamed and downloaded from the band's MySpace, begins with a spindly organ line only to be joined by rather dramatic guitars and drums, and then a scratchy guitar line starts up (with an angularity akin to the riff from Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out), making way for more choir-like strains from the entire band. The melding of Meredith and David's vocals creates a springboard for the syncopated drums and half-shouts that arise when the rest of the band's vocals comes in. They slow it down for the briefer Only You, which features Bjork-like vocals as Meredith plaintively sings, "I am trying to be near you." Water Here then begins with brass sounds and Kyle Gladden's bass, almost sounding like an orchestra tuning up, until a playful melody kicks in, see-sawing along with the band's voices, rallying like a well-tuned band of revolutionaries, and then the song changes speed as though it has a mind of its own, moving into a jazzier, funkier style as voices overlap and criss-cross each other in a lattice-work of sonic intricacy.

The second half of the album is just as commanding and meandering as the first. Keep Me On recalls the dramatic openings of songs like Gold, Tan, Peach and Grey, with quieter strums of guitar and light organ paired with their unique vocal ensemble, and has an eerie Old West feel, reminding me a bit of Nick Cave. Lines and phrases like "hold me on the narrow way," "in the grey grass" and "sting of the nettles" conjure up a difficult, but sublime journey, reminiscent of a hymn. For its first minute, Darling, Be Here is a more straight-ahead rock number, but as is expected with Bodies of Water, it wriggles out of those constraints into different, unexpected rhythms and instrumental combinations. With the theatrical flourishes, it feels like a mini-film-soundtrack contained in five minutes. Like Water Here, Even in a Cave starts with random, yet pleasing sounds like honks of clarinet and muted trumpet, and then Meredith comes in with a hushed voice, but through the fantastic serendipity of the song, it all ends with a festive, squiggly Latin style. If I Were a Bell makes several different stylistic choices before settling into that arcane wailing that they do best. The album closes with the two-minute The Mud Gapes Open, a folkier tune with a sense of slightly warmed earth parting for new life - a wonderful way to end the record.

There is something undeniably organic about Bodies of Water - in fact, they move like one natural body, but with the unpredictability and versatility of water. When you try to put your finger on their music, it rises and resurfaces somewhere else, all the while it pushes you in strange directions with a gentle, but insistent power, sometimes baptizing you with a wave of fervour. Their esoteric, pastoral lyrics add a further austere, magical quality to their work. I highly recommend both purchasing this latest effort and seeing them on their coming tour (I'm quite stewing over the fact I won't be anywhere near to the cities they're playing this time around) - it's bound to be a religious experience.

So as not to be emailed with notices from Secretly Canadian to take down the tracks not authorized for download (other blogs appear to have been told already), I've only included the legal MP3s provided by the label and then one track from Bodies of Water's debut album. It's more than likely that the label never would have found me and my humble little blog (it, like me, is as stealthy as a ninja), but stranger things have happened.

Bodies of Water Web site:
Bodies of Water MySpace:

Gold, Tan, Peach and Grey - Bodies of Water

Under the Pines - Bodies of Water

Our Friends Appear Like the Dawn - Bodies of Water

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