Friday, June 24, 2011

Record review: Brontosaurus - 'Cold Comes to Claim'

By Sasha Geffen

"Listeners, beware," we're warned in the first few seconds of Cold Comes to Claim. Beware, and prepare for what's to come--some danger, perhaps, judging from the tense, cinematic chords that crawl under the vocals. "Prepare your brains for bombardment, notes born of despair." We're asked, even pleaded, to ready ourselves for feeling. Pianos trickle in; harmonies twist together. When the drums start crashing, we're feeling it--we're there, we're ready.

Chicago duo Brontosaurus, comprising Nicholases Kelley and Papaleo, make plenty of sound for just two people. And not in the same sense that White (Stripes/Mystery) make high volumes of noise, although that, too, is an impressive feat. The songs on Brontosaurus's debut album are thick, impressively woven worlds; dark, intricate, and indeed full of feeling.

At six tracks and roughly 30 minutes, Cold Comes to Claim runs up against the shorter edge of standard LP running times. The brevity is wise; the record feels whole. It takes its time where it needs to, holds an arc, and never lingers where it doesn't need to. This prog-folk adventure runs effortlessly clean as it engages its listeners in perfect pacing. It knows where to rear big--at the climax of "Beware," with huge drums and charred vocals--and where to recede into the darkness. Softer moments emulate real English folk songs, while more explosive stretches fall into the same world as folk's more energetic descendents, e.g. the historical nerd stylings of the Decemberists. In one song the rock is played straight; thick guitar tones on the tonally isolated "Bring In New Blood" remind me of bands that were "emo" before it was a bad thing.

Plenty of care in craft and structure can be heard; these tracks boast lovely architecture. But above all, Brontosaurus excel at tone. Their guitars, played crunchy or clean, sound like real vibrating wood. The record brims with rich tones that ring clear through effortlessly clean production. While some songs might rely on orchestral backup for this sort of lushness, Cold Comes to Claim reminds us that guitars are indeed still string instruments carved from trees. Even the keyboards and vocal processing sound warm and natural here; the synthetic and the organic swirl together into seamless baroque pop.

Brontosaurus find their strongest moments at points of high drama. Kelley and Papaleo deliver fantastic vocal performances throughout the record, but I believe them the most when they're stretching to crisis. The highlight of the album comes with the coda of "Beware," though it's nearly matched on epic closer "Mouths Move." It's in these moments of urgency that Brontosaurus shine, drawing us into their enigmatic yet arresting theater of sound. The record's not afraid to ask, even demand, the emotional attention of its listeners--and it does so while skirting cliche and prodding forward into a powerful place.

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