Absinthe Blind

Rings

(Mud; 2003)

By Amir Nezar | 28 April 2003

First, the band name is great. Second, this thing is MASSIVE. Five minutes shy of the full-hour mark. Which is not as massive as say, the average Sigur Rós effort, but the pace of our favorite Icelandic atmos-rock kings tends to be slow and deliberate. Glacial, if you will. This is a record so densely packed with sounds, with such forward momentum and epic feel, that it just seems gigantic. These things have the tendency to tire you out faster than suicide running drills.

I’ll get out my two complaints right here. First, I skip “Dreamer’s Song” every time. When I do listen to it, it’s not bad. But it just doesn’t belong on this record, at all. The voices don’t quite mesh either. It’s kind of a deadknob in the middle of a great record that brings it down ever so slightly (say, .3 points in the rating). The other thing is that a couple songs get very close to feminine rock, which, I’ll be frank, I detest. “Ease Down the Curtains” toes the line very dangerously. Thankfully, it doesn’t quite qualify. But really, those pretty much are all the serious complaints I could lodge against this impressive effort.

You ought to need little convincing, as well. The opener, and one of the album’s best songs “The Break (It’s Been There All This Time),” displays the soul of Rings in fine fashion. An aquatic synth opening breaths crystal dust through your speakers before a stuttering bass synth loop trips into the whispered “Sha!” from frontman Adam Fein, who, by the way has an insane variety of vocal tones at his command. In a full croon he accompanies synth lines that are punctuated by a gentle bass and wonderfully caressed cymbal whispers and a kickdrum heartbeat. The song then goes perfectly organic as a confident guitar winds its way around the lovely bassline that undercuts the gorgeous percussion and gives weight to the song. One of these lovely loops in, the song cuts out, synth stutter once again, and it’s back to the synth lines, wailing ever so plaintively as his sister, Erin Fein, comes to fill out the vocal space around the guitars. With measured aplomb and constraint the guitar begins to do a gentle chord dance up in the higher ranges before reaching ever higher around the swirl of bass, drums and cymbals, before a floor of synth supports the song with only a drum beat and Erin Fein’s vocals, self-layered and pristine. A rush of endorphins and a killer increase of volume later the fuzzy guitar line bleeds its way through around the bass. Then, cut, synth stutter, percussion drop, and the song is over.

The interplay of brother and sister’s vocals is a beautiful little thing, and it adds a heartfelt dimension to well-constructed, creative anthemic chords and hooks. The guitars here are traditional and fucking awesome, adding interplay and fuzz at will in calculated introductions and exits. The band also employs orchestral strings to increase the epic feel, and does so without triteness. The songs are admittedly often emotion-heavy, but they’re not heavy-handed, saving them from banality and instead simply increasing the heft of the songs here.

Absinthe Blind also know a couple things about how to keep a listener entranced. They are experts at weaving delicate sound with gentle strength to progressively increase your anticipation of the head-rocking choruses that soar to beautiful heights before coming down to leave you saying, “oh, fuck yes.” This knowledge of time and space, of tension and constrained beauty, is what holds this record together. Just as you think you’ve got the idea of the song pinned down, the Feins (there are three), and Tristan Wright, their expert drummer throw a curveball at you that hits the sweet spot. In “Bands 1,” for instance, the opening is heavily synthetic, employing a drum machine and fuzzy synth loop to provide the carpeting for the Feins’s lovely interplaying voices. Backwards synth loops and icicles of percussion frost around a beautiful melody before the bass and the voices complete the whole that is the first part of the song. But just as you’re sure this is going to be a quiet, glacial ballad, a guitar lilt weaves in, the synth drops out, and horns, of all things, enter to complement the interweave of the second Fein brother’s guitar. Then, drop, and it’s back to the synth-heavy, piano-punctuated movement that was first introduced in the beginning. It’s gentle, restrained, and above all, avoids the overblown conclusion that it could’ve fallen victim to.

Adam Fein, meanwhile can sound like everything from Sting to falsetto-man. But he is so expert with his vocal chords, and he keeps enough of his own style, that everything holds wonderfully. Erin Fein has the voice of a siren, full but airy. And as for the rest of the band, well, the band is ingenious in their manipulation and incorporation of the organic, the instrumental, the classical, and the electronic. There is an enormous variety of sound that sprawls out across this record, and whereas a band like Aereogramme, for instance, had difficulty holding together cohesion within the scope of their vastly different explored genres, these guys do it near-perfectly. There’s My Bloody Valentine’s soul in the guitars, there’s Sting in the delivery, there’s everything you could pretty much want. Sometimes the songs’ climaxes are a bit too teasing, and you find yourself waiting for a good deal of the song for that final moment of catharsis. But for the most part the record is well put together so that you don’t just fast forward to a few big moments.

The production here deserves mention, because it is crystalline. While the guitar details sometimes slip in the mix, the organization of the sonic elements here is profoundly beautiful. It keeps the right instruments in their places, and is almost too glossy to stand. But stand it does, and amaze you it does.

The few spots of inconsistency in the record usually have to do with sudden changes in atmosphere, like in “Dreamers Song,” a terribly Beatles-esque song that just doesn’t quite fit in the general whole of things. Too upbeat for the gravitas of the rest of the record, it’s quite ridiculous, if musically well put together and an altogether pretty ditty. But like I said, my complaints are very limited because the band doesn’t give me too much cause to make them.

So basically, this CD is pretty damn solid. Epic in feel, loving in construction, and wholesome in mood, it will complement your good states of mind.