REVIEW: Thee More Shallows: A History of Sport Fishing
Thee More Shallows: A History of Sport Fishing [Megalon, 2002]
Three words? Music for attics.
Listen; this disc, A History of Sport Fishing, is exceptional. It's a murky, underwater album, a slow-spinning voyage into twilight, and Thee More Shallows stomp and reel as well as they whisper - these are smouldering coals that occasionally shudder into flame.
Don't be fooled by the shitty band name. The music isn't nearly as pretentious as the "Thee" connotes - it's more modest than Godspeed You Black Emperor!, more earth-bound than Sigur Ros. The grey-with-more-grey album sleeve isn't the cast-off from some goth-metal group - if you tip it just right you see the phantom silhouettes of Dee Kesler and Tadas Kisielius, who look more like the Kings of Convenience than they do the Rah Bras. They play music that is gentle and whole - it is original but familiar, a blend of strong influences: an aural tonic.
We begin with "Where Are You Now?" - a shuddering bassline with snapped-branch drums. A voice begins to mutter short couplets: "Stuck between / the daylight hours / was a place / that was ours." Though as a rhyme the lyric leaves something to be desired, it's delivered with a sustained, hushed intensity. An organ begins to murmur, Lebasi Lashley adds a layer of vocal harmony, and for a moment... ah... the song sounds like the best of Yo La Tengo - a haze of sensation, of concentration. And then- oh- it's gone, we're faster, we're wheeling in circles, we're staring into a red sky, it's the edge of delirium, and-
We fall into a warm, grey sleep.
"The 8th Ring of Hell", despite its name, never dives into a lava pit, instead accelerating from lingering Kepler guitars into a still-nice-but-not-happy-in-fact-rather-peeved-off version of Low. There's room for real chaos here, a rise into droning Mogwai madness, but it never comes; A History of Sport Fishing simply can't seem to roar, though it keeps leaning into the gate - recorded between midnight and 9am, each song shows a velvet-and-oak pedigree, yet struggles in visions of fire and anger. It is dark but never dangerous.
"Pulchritude" is a beautiful, breathless instrumental - the Shallows' cello and violin go sailing alongside Rachel's Sea and Bells. The title track is an epic that lifts from Sparklehorse whispers to another crescendo of spirit, and again falls just short of epiphany. "The CruXXX" is vibrant and forward-looking, with mathy guitar hooks and "Ral Partha's sister's friends get[ting] drunk", though their voices have been twisted into dolphin squawks and whale gulps. Later, the brilliant "Aerodrome" weaves a landscape out of violin and bells, panting like a locomotive as it puffs past hills and forests, dark groves and the flash of sunlight on a pond. "I Do So Have a Sense of Humour" mixes Low with Grandaddy, laying strings and guitar over the vocal melody until it is drowned out and left to the stars. "He Hate Me" is like Arab Strap without the vitreol, replacing dirty dreams with the muted sounds of children at play. Though it's not boring, it lacks an immediacy - that is, until the next track begins, and you realize "He Hate Me" was simply a goodbye hug, a pat on the back before being left on the moor with "The Horizon is a Single Point", where Thee More Shallows' guitars and falsetto gradually pull away into the sky, whispering a lullaby even as you begin to realize you're being left to yourself, left stranded, left amongst mud-greens and blue-grey plants, an emptiness in your heart, the whites bright in your eyes, the band and its sound disappearing amongst charcoal clouds, their gold light narrowing to a beam, to a ray, and then covered over. Smothered. And then you stand alone.
You turn on the lights. You swallow, rub at your face. You reach for the stereo. And you begin again.