Thursday, September 12, 2013

New music: Pillars and Tongues - 'End-Dances'

By Andrew Hertzberg 

Pillars and Tongues seem an anomaly in Chicago’s music scene. A far cry from much of the underground rock bands or the more nationally appreciated hip-hop artists, the trio creates challenging pieces, centering at the Venn diagram of ambient, pop, and contemporary classical. Their bandcamp lists artists such as Liars, Julie Holter, William Basinski, Leonard Cohen, and Peter Gabriel as RIYLs, and I am reminded of even more artists while listening to their newest album End-Dances.

The album starts off with 'Knifelike,' the most upbeat track on the 48 minute album. Centering on droning strings, staccato vocals, and a driving, repetitive drumbeat, it sets the tone for the rest of the album. 'Bell + Rein’ follows a similar theme, but stretched out over nearly ten minutes: the droning strings build up slowly before being joined by subtle drums and bass.

Much of the album is reminiscent of Devotchka’s atmospheric, indie-folk sound, but if their songs were composed by Max Richter. And yet, at the other side of the spectrum, I can’t help but think of Low during ‘Points of Light,’ if only for the fact that the Mark Trecka and Elizabeth Remis perfectly mirror the harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. 'Medora' borders on Nick Cave territory, brooding and ominous, the tension slowly building throughout the piece. 'Ends' is a soundtrack to a dream, focusing on quick piano chords. The album closes on a more optimistic and warmer note with the major-chord led 'Ships.'

Leaning heavy on droning, repetition, and loops means that the album risks losing its appeal towards the end. But it isn’t necessarily an album made for close listening either. Put it on in the background, give it some room to breathe, and let the ethereal quality envelop you in its atmosphere. In addition to all of their musical influences, the band uses travel as an inspiration. But for all of the subtle nods toward downright Americana, the album's mixture of ambition, experimental whimsy and melancholia is a perfect soundtrack to a Chicago autumn night.

The album officially comes out next Tuesday, September 17th on Empty Cellar Records, but you can stream a couple songs it ahead of time here. The band plays on Friday, September 20th at the Chicago Cultural Center, as well as October 12th at the Burlington.

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