Ah, that’s much better!
Since I’m a college professor, the first part of May every year finds me grading final exams and final papers. It’s not fun. It can be gratifying, but it can also be depressing. Either way, it’s exhausting, and it requires some kind of respite afterwards, a mini-staycation of some sort, a passage into a place where the time is elastic, so that the passage back is simultaneously minutes and days after departure. The passage back (to the place I was before) is to an apparently transformed and renewed place. Or is it just that I was, in those brief moments, gone for so long?
Refreshment comes this May with the BEM release of The Fierce and the Dead’s latest studio album, The Euphoric (official release date 5/18/2018). As I’ve come to expect from TFATD, I’m provided here with a glorious flow of instrumental passages.
Passages (like those in buildings and like those in books) bring us some kind of content, and take us from one place to another. As I think about “passage” (verb) and “passages” (noun), I hear the way in which the guys in TFATD (Matt Stevens, Kev Feazey, Steve Cleaton, and Stuart Marshall) have again worked their amazing alchemy, learned from Zappa, King Crimson, and others, yet never merely derivative. Each aural texture has a deeply satisfying feel, but it is the passages from one to another that are central to the band’s art. The textures are less like paintings in a gallery, and more like dramatic pauses in a narrative where one is pleasantly unsurprised by one passage, then surprised by another. The narrative carries my ear as an open vessel on a current.
This is not just a set of songs; it’s a narrative composed of musical passages. This is not just “an instrumental album”; it’s a work (remembering that “work” is one sense of the word ‘liturgy’). I come out at the end forgetting to breathe for a moment, then breathing fresher air once I remember.
The entire disc more than lives up to the promise of the first single, “Truck.” (I love the way in which that title can be taken as noun or verb. See the video below.) This set sounds a bit more “prog” (thinking stereotypically) in some ways, and stays as “accessible” as anything the band has done. But most important is that the laid-back seriousness (gravity with levity?) of The Fierce and the Dead infuses and transfigures every moment along the way.
The title track is the stand-out on my first listen. The sense of floating is delightfully disconcerting. Bending and straining at the edges of an implied “absolute” pitch, creating just the right aural tension, “The Euphoric” reminds the listener that euphoria is not just comfort or bliss, but more of a mystical melding of pain and pleasure.
Also especially notable is “Verbose.” I guess I’ll go ahead and yield to the temptation to make the easy joke: No words would do it justice. (Tee-hee.) But I wonder if this track might be seen as doing (at least some) justice to words? An instrument may be seen as an extension of the human body, and especially of the voice, of speaking. When it occurred to me to hear “Verbose” as if it were speaking, I found that it earned its title. It has much more to say than could be voiced.
And of course, we have Parts 7 and 8. Of what, you ask? Of that which began with Part 1. That’s where it began for them, and for me. And they keep delivering. Each part is a passage.
And have I mentioned that it rocks? That’s one of the things that I love the most about The Fierce and the Dead. As they speak, as they provide passage, as they make serious music with what always sounds like a light touch, as they practice their aural alchemy, they also always rock.
I bet you could do with a passage to The Euphoric. Listen, and travel along