It’s unfortunate, really. Pelican has so much potential. Even with the surfeit of instrumental rock triumphalists surrounding them, the members of the Chicago quartet have shown themselves perfectly capable of finding unexplored nooks in post-rock’s packed house. Sure, the genre and its attendant soft-loud-louder dirges don’t have nearly the cultural cache they once did, but Pelican’s thrilling guitarists, at least on 2005’s The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, made riff-worship a wholly un-embarrassing enterprise. Things, it seemed, could only get better.
On City of Echoes, axmen Laurent Schroeder-Lebec and Trevor de Brauw are better. Their tunes are shorter, tighter, less willing to dissolve into needless feedback. We could be picky about the guitar tone, but there’s much to celebrate, particularly the brilliant half-time arpeggios sending tremors through the last minute and a half of “Far from Fields.”
The problem, evident to a degree on The Fire, is the rhythm section, namely drummer Larry Herweg. His sodden time-keeping sabotages Pelican’s star-gazing, continuingly undercutting the momentum generated by Schroeder-Lebec and de Brauw. On the title track — possibly his worst performance — Herweg either plays too far behind or too far ahead of the beat, ham-fisting his way through the tune’s lyrical dynamism. The fills just aren’t there. It’s painful to listen to.
Despite Herweg’s kit-mangling, there’s still much to admire here. City of Echoes is Pelican’s most compact, least pompous effort yet. In their hands, instrumental rock — the last refuge for guitar heroes — still has some love left to give. Let’s just hope Herweg does his homework next time.