Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Babbling Beauty: Allegories' Surreal Auteur

Though the Hamilton band Allegories has apparently been popping up on various blogs and on CBC Radio 3 many months ago, I only just discovered them and their debut album Surreal Auteur, and I'm thoroughly impressed. The band, which consists of Adam Bentley and Jordan Mitchell, have created a sonic epic that is naturally human in its myriad unnatural sounds. Like their name, Allegories can be so many things at once, whole yet apart. Surreal Auteur's twelve tracks are split into three movements: Grand Ascension (Curtains), Marvellous Man & Mouse and Worthy Conclusion for Zanglust Our Hero. According to Allegories' MySpace, the narrative of the album begins thusly:

The story of Zanglust has persevered through the ages to become a legend of downy softness proportions. His life became an inspiration to over a million ants. Our story begins at the Crustacean Circus, with the most renowned antcrobats of the time. The tragedy opens with Zip and Zap Lust letting their obsession with public fornication accidentally destroy their lives.

How could that not grab my attention? The story continues with equal measures absurdity and whimsy, a mixture that reminds me a bit of The Mighty Boosh. You can read the entire story here. In regards to the music: while there is definite homage paid to the prominent shoegazers and dreampoppers, including My Bloody Valentine, Sigur Ros and Cocteau Twins, the way this album flows seamlessly into itself and its sense of sonic storytelling reminds me of Mew's And the Glass Handed Kites. Because of this seamlessness, I'm not going to discuss each track individually; rather, I will go by each major section.

The album's first section, including Acro(bat)/When I Hold My Breath, Like This; Shaking Like a Leaf; Surf's Out/The Tumult; and Stage Fright, begins with a swell of violins and liquified noise, soon to be joined by gentle, cooing vocals that reverberate like whale communication in the placid depths. The mood gradually shifts into sunny piano and cymbal flourishes like someone pushing and propelling him/herself to the surface. The atmosphere becomes darker as small clicks of feedback occur over a backdrop of low tones and surges before expanding into clarity and majesty once more. About fourteen minutes into the album, a militant dirge starts up, which is intermittently disturbed by dissonant guitar chords and draped with haunting voices before descending into a void.

The second section, which includes Summer Market, Winter Racket; Aww, Ooo, and Others/The Orchid and The Epiphyte/The Burying of the Hatchet (Mike Love's Back); Killed a Carrot; and Peaches, begins with another surge, frosted with bells and laced with dreamy vocals, and the airiness is supported by the earthiness of strummed guitar. The music eddies and swirls until it feels like you're being drawn into whirlpool of otherwise dark, brackish water. And the chorus of voices sound like they are celebrating before distilling themselves into an acapella bridge. Then the music slows down and a low, knocking rhythm pulses beneath the surface like violet veins. As the music comes down again, buzzes and clicks step to the foreground only to be superceded by the serene plinking of strings - this particular portion makes me think of a verdant rainforest, pregnant with moisture and the subtle movement of fauna. The sonic landscape then collapses in on itself in chaotic gasps and unsettling, garbled noise until flatlining into a faint buzz.

The final section, which consists of Grass Toboggan; Zanglust/Tom's a Ladder; Fish Water Desert Trapeze; and Acro(nym), vibrates to life with frenzied hums and calming vocal tones. As the impatient, tapping of snares pushes the rhythm along, the music bursts into bloom in flashes of sonic watercolour. Then, like the tuning in of a radio dial, snatches of voices and squeals of different songs, stitched together by static, converge into a postmodern symphony of sorts. While vocals murmur to themselves, beeps and whizzes creep in over top of broader, cavernous echoes - scrambled signals across a universe as black as a dilated pupil. Just as metal clanks of what sounds like tools edges in, the music abruptly changes tack into a gliding lullaby. Breathy vocals careen about the stratosphere, unfurling themselves like feathery wings. Entering into the final phase of the album, the music hovers low like mist in a valley. Voices of different tones compete with each other in a euphoric cacophony before drifting into pulses and white-hot feedback.

You can stream the entire album here and then buy it here. Many of those who have already reviewed this album have compared it to being in the womb, and I can definitely see their point; there is something distinctly alive about this album. It seethes with natural sounds that are run through a prism that simultaneously divides and conjoins in an imperfect symmetry. There's a method and harmony to the nonsense. Surreal Auteur speaks a primordial language as beautiful as the first strains of people finding their tongues at the Tower of Babel.

Summer Market, Winter Racket - Allegories

Shaking Like a Leaf - Allegories