Saturday, June 28, 2008

Envy - some more Envy (incl. Envy/Jesu review)

Envy / compiled fragments 1997-2003

Front cover / record on turntable / insert

The metallic quality of the cover or the insert doesn't really come across, but where it's washed out in the top right-hand corner is from the glare of the reflection. Seriously, this whole package is impressively put together - but then it contains some very impressive music.

Previous post


If you want to get some more Envy, then the quick way is to go to this post on Zen and the Art of Face Punching - key quote "vinly is just cooler". And to buy, go to Temporary Residence Limited as I did. They used to be on eMusic, but apparently not as of this moment - fickle are the ways of nascent progressive (reasonably-priced) download music providers.


('initial attempt' from Click to see full-size; likewise with back cover, at bottom)

Ok, so the new Envy/Jesu split. It's good. It's not officially out yet (Japan in July, and October in the US + elsewhere via Hydrahead, I think), but there are few downloads floating around which sound like they're the finished item. I mean, as far as I know. I've never been up to speed on this 'leaking' business. All I know is that I'll be sure to buy it when it comes out (vinyl or CD, I'm easy), and that's its good.

Maybe it's better than Abyssal, maybe it's not. I'm not going to make any sort of final judgement here, but develop some first impressions a little further. I know people who appreciated the full length of Insomniac Doze struggled to get into Abyssal; others, including myself, see it as a sort of Insomniac redux, a concision of that statement album (previous post on Abyssal here.)

What that EP did was, track by track, to neatly showcase several different elements of Envy's sound: their complete, post-rock assault; an earlier hardcore sound; meditative, melodic post-rock soundscapes; and spacey electronics, which tied up a lot of Dead Sinking Story so nicely. Envy's three songs here follow a similarly broad spread, but it's neither so balanced nor so reflective.

As that carefully couched phrase suggests, I don't think that difference between this and Abyssal is either that important or reflects too badly on either record. Envy/Jesu seems to give more than a nod on Envy's part to what Justin Broadrick/Jesu have done with heavy, melodic music; in that way, Envy's spread is somewhat less traditional than what they've done before.

Strangely titled opener 'Conclusion of Existence' begins with quasi-electronic beats and an ambience not too far from Insomniac Doze-type territory, but as the song develops it's clear that Envy aren't still inhabiting the same soundscape. The intro steps up into a minute or so of more garage-y beats, which give way for a moment into familiar Envy melodic guitar - back into Insomniac Doze. But then the song fills up with crashing waves and, yes, strings. The whole thing - best listened to loud, for full effect - isn't as epic or as rambling as previous Envy post-rock efforts, and sounds a whole lot different. It's almost like Envy have gone slightly Portishead.

'A Winter Quest For Fantasy' treads more familiar ground, with a long melodic lead-in and then a soaring crescendo. But again, the sound is subtly adjusted - the percussion seems slightly more prominent, strings add initial colour and the transition from meditative quiet to ear-shattering loudness is aided by some more unusual electronic touches. Glissandos, even (not really.)

Finally, their third song, 'Life Caught In The Rain' at first seems even more traditional, a melodic rocker in the off-key screamo vein. But soon there is something insistent and obvious about it - the combination of a heavy, stomping rhythm and melody line which is not only catchy, but that you could almost whistle it. If 'All that's left has gone to sleep', the second track from Abyssal, connected with the old-school Envy with its turn-on-a-dime transition from calm to shrieking chaos, 'Life Caught In The Rain' harks back to the early Envy tracks which pulled out a deeply melodic hook from noisy, grandiose hardcore.

After the variety of constructions that precede it, the initial offenings of Jesu's 'Hard to Reach' seem glaringly minimalist. Quickly, however, the opening beats are supplemented by the rich shoegazing texture, as combined with strong touches of post-rock instrumentation, which defines the group's sound. I would contend that Envy have adopted a lot of the qualities of modern shoegaze, particularly on Insomniace Doze, but nowhere near as obviously as Jesu. My main problem with Conqueror was that the shogaze side was too obvious, and the inclination to channel My Bloody Valentine just wasn't matched by any really interesting exhibitions of melody or heaviness (they were there, I just didn't find them interesting.) It became too boring, in other words.

"truth be told, it's nothing special"

Ah well, it's more than that

Of course, I was aware that Justin Broadrick had developed the Jesu sound gradually, taking it by steps away from the extremity of its metal predecessors. Sun Down/Sun Rise worked better for me, as a more experimental/conceptual stretching of the sound. Without trying to fashion an album out of ethereal heaviness - a problem My Bloody Valentine themselves had with Isn't Anything compared with Loveless - it became easier to enjoy. Earlier I simply described the Jesu side of this release as 'solid and interesting', and that's still about the way I feel.

'Hard to Reach' winds its way through various sonic realms, all of them in general quite interesting, but the ultimate pleasure remains in accordance with the title. 'The Stars That Hang Above' is a bit more open and upfront about its goods, fairly dripping with melody insofar as minimalist electro can do, before opening up into shoegazing heaviness. At the end of the day, when Jesu opens up - heavy, cyclical style - and sits between the sounds of shoegaze and post-rock, this is where I sit up and take notice.

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