Not all music is meant to be embraced from the first moment the music reveals itself. There are records that must be earned, bands that keep you at arm’s length, and sometimes it takes a stretch of patience and understanding for someone’s art to really sink in and make its point. Often times, those are the albums that end up sticking with me the longest.
That happened recently on a drive home from work as all I wanted to do was get home and bury myself inside. With my mind icing over, I needed something to jar me, and I turned to “Au de La,” the second record from Montreal trio Big | Brave that I had visited with a few times before that. I found the five-track offering interesting and different, but it hadn’t really sunk its teeth into me yet. But on that commute homeward, something happened and everything made sense. The thick drone carried me, the jarring crashing of their dual guitars and one devastated drum kit felt like lightning bolts going through me, and the swirling, stabbing vocals stood out and proclaimed what I was hearing as something that would not be equaled by anyone else that year. By that I mean there’s not another band that possibly could replicate what Big | Brave achieve on this record.
There is a tenacity and intensity to Big | Brave’s music, yet they can pull back and hypnotize you with quiet passages where it seems serenity will win. But it never does. Changes burst like lava, and the band seems to take a loose, improvised path through much of what’s going on here. Robin Wattie’s voice grabs you and forces you to listen, chanting mercilessly, wailing at the top of her lungs, and often feeling like she is going off the hinges as she expresses every dark fiber inside of her. Mathieu Bernard Ball’s agitated guitars and Louis-Alexandre Beauregard’s sometimes exploratory, often primal drumming adds to the power of this trio and make them a band from which you can’t turn your eyes and ears. As the music builds, so will the intensity in your soul, and first visits to this record could fill you with nervous energy as your try to anticipate each of their curves.
“On the By and By and Thereon” opens with guitars wailing repetitively, with feedback squalling, Wattie’s singing stuttered, and the machine creating a loop of fury. The power subsides a bit, slithering in the undertow, before the vocals return as a yelp, the cymbals are bashed, and the sounds lead to a finish that slowly subsides. “Look at How the World Has Made a Change” goes 11:52, and it squeezes every ounce out of that time with the first few minutes feeling spacey and floating, as the ambiance builds, and a hint of danger is on the horizon. The noise quivers and aches, while sounds pulsate beneath, the drums are struck, and what sounds like horns start to blare. The singing picks up its fire, as the band comes alive, blasting away, thrashing your senses, and timing their blasts with precision that makes the song feel even heavier than it is. “do.no.harm.do.no.wrong.Do.No.Harm.Do.Know.Wrong” has feedback howling, the smudging feeling prehistorically massive, and even some bluesy heat ripping out of the guitar work. Things get a little faster here, with Wattie’s vocals scraping and scathing, twisting into shrieks and shouts, and the final moments blazing shockingly.
“And as the Waters Go” is the unquestioned main event and the perfect portrait of how well this band builds strength and anticipation. The guitars start to stab as Wattie’s vocals cut through and rise above the murk. Her singing sprawls, lathered with rage sometimes, seeking release in other moments, and all the while, the bed of sound is gathering at her feet. This is where the band feels the least structured in the best way, and it’s like they built layer upon layer of heavy fog and smashing violence, doing whatever their commanding desires compelled them to do and creating a raging inferno all the while. The final moments let the haze set in, as the band slowly crashes on their instruments, never letting you know when they’ll relent and making you hope they never do. Closer “(re)Collection Pt II” is the longest cut at 13:18, and it allows humidity to collect. Slow drum strikes begin to push, as the singing joins in and the pace plods along. There are powerful strikes, of course, but also sounds that whir and a mix of voices lashing out. All elements mash together and create thick cloud coverage, with percussion rambling, calm sliding in, and guitars making your hair wilt. The track works well as a comedown, a cooling spot, where the bruises you suffered earlier are dressed, and you’re allowed to disappear into night along with the band’s music.
Big | Brave’s cacophonous noise and cathartic shedding of energy feels amazing to hear play out on record, and I can only imagine what this feels like in a live setting. “Au de La” is a really boisterous record by a pretty special band that’s finally getting a bigger stage to show their stuff. Expect a journey unlike any one you’ve ever taken before, and if at first the music doesn’t swell you, give it time to get into your blood and change your frame of mind.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.bigbrave.ca/
To buy the album, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store
For more on the label, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/