A Gaze Among Them by BIG | BRAVERelease date: May 10, 2019
Label: Southern Lord
BIG | BRAVE are a trio from Montreal dealing in heavy minimalism and a full exploration of quiet/loud dynamics. The band is made up of Robin Wattie (vocals, electric guitar, guitar amp, bass amp), Mathieu Ball (electric guitar, guitar amps) and Loel Campbell (drums). Volume is a key tool, where there is sound it is a physical force, played at levels that resonate and hum, connecting almost beyond rational understanding. Like the blues it’s as much as about what and when they don’t play – the chasms of silence pregnant with meaning, sometimes foreboding, often desolate, but sometimes desperate for fulfillment.
The vocals of Robin Wattie are a raw, impassioned yelp and they add to the feeling you are listening to a much slower, more cautious Brutus. Lyrics are personal, impassioned but oblique “you don’t get to do this” is repeated on opener ‘Muted Shifting of Space’, it’s gets ever angrier as the music roils, but I’m not sure what ‘this‘ is. Often the words are so drawn out that they seem to lose meaning, becoming otherworldly and strange like the Cocteau Twins.
The last album, 2017’s ARDOR was a progression from earlier recordings – fuller, with lengthy soundscapes. On A Gaze Among Them the band return to a core sound and ethos – “How do we take very little and make something bigger than what we actually have?” was the question they asked themselves, according to Wattie. It feels like the band are more pensive, despite the juddering violence of a lot of the music and tighter running times of songs. There’s a tension in uncertainty, like a fist in a pocket. ‘Holding Pattern’ is ritualistic, threatening, the ever-present bass rumble presaging a storm.
The most startling example of the bands sonic mastery is the closing ‘Sibling’ in which fridge freezer-sized slabs of fuzz slide across your mind and crash into the opposite side of your skull. It mixes the industrial and the ancient, with a chanted vocal above sounds so distorted they are barely recognisable as guitars/drums/synths. Sometimes it doesn’t really feel like music, but it does make you feel.
It’s taken me a long time to come to a point where I can review this album as it pushes buttons I’m not used to. I’m not sorry about that. A Gaze Among Them requires your full attention or else it sounds like coded messages sent without the code book, mysterious staccato signals. It really is worthy of your time.
If you are lucky, you can catch BIG | BRAVE at the Raw Power festival in London next weekend or in Brighton on May 28th. The album is out now on Southern Lord.