Since founding in 1995, the Toronto-based post-rock group Do Make Say Think has provided their fans with sound sculptures that captivate the ears. Judging solely by the album art, their new LP Persistent Stubborn Illusions plays with themes of a frozen wilderness. The album showcases this idea in the form of 9 different tracks that add up to over 60 minutes, and it even contains a few soundscapes that you can actually dance to.
TREKKING THROUGH THE ARCTIC
“War on Torpor” is the first song on the album (torpor is a state of laziness). Within the first few seconds of the song, a sharp synth that sounds like something from David Bowie‘s Low LP begins the melody. The instrumentation continues to build in intensity until about 1:55; when the synths die down, the drums take on a syncopated and jazzy rhythm, and the piano and strings introduce a new, lively theme (This is where you will want to start dancing). As the song begins to develop, the song ends in a dizzying miasma of sound and segues into the album’s longest track: “Horripilation”.
This 10-minute piece takes you on an engaging journey in both subtle and robust ways. Its title refers to the phenomenon of hair standing up due to internal or external stimuli. For the first two minutes, two guitars share an icy harmony supported by faint drums. The progression gains bells and horns that flesh out the skeletal guitars and add color to the total sound. Then the song takes a sonic nose dive around 4:24, as churning synths, strings, and drums take over. The melody shifts and changes through the rest of the track, as waves of sound rise and fall continually. Disgruntled horn passages, galloping guitars, and wailing synths complement these waves until the song ends, providing a very cryptic vibe.
Another notable track from Illusions is “And Boundless”. This song features some unique sounds right out of the gate. It begins with fast-paced drums and an organ passage that sounds like a blaring siren from the previous track “Bound”. If organs could yell, this is what they’d sound like. While the yelling dies down, a subdued guitar passage takes center stage over two separate drum tracks. At 3:17, the coolest bass riff on the whole album finds its way into the mix. The song gradually fades in and out until the original organ refrain returns, and a jaunting 6/8 guitar riff finishes the song.
Of course, the record has a few more interesting highlights. There’s the haunting horn/woodwind phrases in “Her Eyes on the Horizon”. The happy-go-lucky groove on “As Far as the Eye Can See” is a hidden jewel in the song list. The dauntless riff of “Return, Return Again” closes out the album as another dance-worthy track. Also appreciated are the several tracks that contain unique samples (“Horriplilation”, “Bound”, “Her Eyes on the Horizon”, etc.)
But Stubborn Persistent Illusions is not without its flaws. One of the album’s biggest problems may be its own stubbornness. For instance, the tracks “A Murder of Thoughts” and “Shlomo’s Son” seem to obstinately meander at a low volume. They never reach a climax, and never allow for dynamic contrast. This makes the songs difficult to sit through. Contrast is also an issue on tracks like “Horripilation” that feature large waves of sound that wax and wane regularly: unfortunately, the waves don’t always climb high enough. Do May Say Think is able to bring their sound to a low volume, but they struggle when it comes time to bring it back up.
Moreover, some of the effects on this album were a bit distracting from the overall theme. While I enjoy the jabbing organs from “And Boundless”, the effect on the “Return, Return Again” riff that made it sound as if it was being played backwards, and…well, whatever this is, some of the keyboard sounds are just too out of place. “Bound” contains some keyboard templates that are a bit too shiny. The phasing effect on “As Far as the Eye Can See” should have ended sooner than it did. And the pitch-shifted instrumentals in “Shlomo’s Son” don’t fit the rest of the song very well.
THE JOURNEY’S END
Stubborn Persistent Illusions leaves me with the feeling that I’ve just returned from an amazing adventure. Despite some shortcomings, the album makes for an immersive experience that can’t be played solely in the background. And unlike some post-rock works, this LP is a great way to introduce new listeners to the genre. After their 8-year hiatus, this record should make for a solid comeback for Do Make Say Think.
Notable Tracks: “War on Torpor”; “Horripilation”; “And Boundless”
FFO: FFO: David Bowie, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, This Will Destroy You