It is a fairly common experience for people (read: me) getting into meditation for the first time to experience difficulty in quieting one’s mind. Repeating mantras over and over can sometimes be helpful , because that repetition gives the conscious mind a concrete task to focus on, which frees up the rest of the person. The language used can change based on the tradition it’s found in of course, but the idea of using repetition to lower defenses and experience something wonderful is all I have been able to think about as I continue to sit with Big|Brave‘s new album, A Gaze Among Them.
Formed in 2012 in Montreal, Big|Brave is a trio consisting of vocalist/guitarist Robin Wattie, guitarist Mathieu Ball, and drummer Loel Campbell. After the release of their first album Feral Verdure, they were picked up by Southern Lord, and A Gaze Among Them marks their third release on that label. By the time of their last record Ardor, they were writing complex, 10+ minute epics that would challenge their listeners in return for serious payoffs. Once you get to that kind of scope, what is the next move?
While the experimental tag is certainly earned, the music on this album to me sits in a liminal space between drone and post rock. In contrast to the slow burn of “Sound” off of the Ardor album, here “Muted Shifting of Space” opens the album with an immediate and steady drum/guitar riff. Off of this unchanging foundation, attentive listeners will start to find the rather subtle variations in notes and effects that develop over time. This immediacy and subtlety seems to function as a guiding philosophy for the album as a whole.
In tracks like “Holding Pattern” and “Sibling” that variation goes in an upward direction, piling layers on top of each other over time to magnificent crescendos. “Sibling” in particular, with its additional synth-flavored rhythmic base, almost puts the song in Chelsea Wolfe territory. The first half of “Body Individual” is a menacing drone, with no drums except as texture, but then a switch hits and the band launches into its most powerful riff for a solid five minutes. It even does a nice mixing trick of getting louder after reaching the point thought to be its loudest. Before the closing track, “This Deafening Verity” is a short ambient interlude that would be my favorite for just how pretty it sounds, except that it ends fairly abruptly. In an album that is entirely mesmerizing and graceful, it’s a moment that jolts you out of that experience, even if only briefly.
That one brief moment aside, A Gaze Among Them is a really engrossing album. The rhythms and especially the vocals which cut through the noise, give the listener something to latch on to more frequently than most drone-based music. While the meditation analogy at the beginning only works so far in that this it’s still really loud rock music at its core, the underlying principle at work here is the same, in that if you can be present with the music, Big|Brave will wreck you in the best way.