reviewed by Chris Matei
Vancouver trio Spruce Trap would often wander in the mountains that surround their hometown before settling down in a local practice space to hone their craft. On their long-developed debut, the influence of such awe-inspiring (and sometimes fear-inspiring) natural powers is clearly evident: the group’s post-rock style largely thrives on the kinds of massive, multi-stage crescendos that feel like lung-burning, treeline-breaking, ecstatic moments of physical exertion.
There are classically anthemic influences to cite here, from aggressively cinematic high-gain thunder in the vein of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Mogwai, to the more emotive, heartstring-stretching legato, insistent build over simple phrasing, and delay-heavy sonics of Explosions in the Sky.
Opening track “Tumült” is a classic example of these influences, a weighty ten-minute exploration of patient rhythm guitar stalking and galloping drum triplets, layered over with lead guitarist Isaac Jeffs’ washes of gain. The track never razes the intricate setting built by its component parts, instead seeming to shade the scene in deeper and more intricately with each passage.
“Fiddle Nero / Rome Is Burning” commits to a more metallic style, using folded and refolded delay feedback as a growling subtext for a tableau of glittering, dark neo-prog flourishes and ghostly treble wails. The song ratchets up into a teeth-rattling central section, but its languid outro – suggesting that it was all a dream, somehow – really sticks the landing.
Part of me feels as though rock-solid drummer Kai Furugori cuts through almost too aggressively at times when the songs on The Wise Prefer to Perish might yearn for the kit to rumble and roar and resonate from somewhere deeper inside the mix, but the album is nonetheless produced and mixed to bring out the best moments of both its atmospheric subtlety and animalistic fury. “Preparing to Leave All This” is a great showcase for this sweeping dynamic quality, as it leaves behind a gently echoing set of verse passages for full bore Stuart Brathwaite hyperspace shred in the choruses without missing a breath.
I suppose the best word for The Wise Prefer to Perish might be “bittersweet.” It’s an album that, as its title alludes, celebrates moments of stunning beauty, but also realizes that beauty is doomed in the end. What can we do in the face of such a realization? There might not be words – and there are none here – but we are left to look up to the skies and howl what instruments we have at maximum volume and hit drums so hard they might threaten to explode. The Wise Prefer to Perish is a deeply cathartic listen after a genuinely, sometimes incomprehensibly screwed up 2016, and a fine showing from this young and dedicated group of musicians.
The Wise Prefer to Perish is available now on Big Smoke Records.
Top Tracks: “Tumült”; “Preparing to Leave All This”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)