Kafka's Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find that he had turned into a giant bug. His reaction to this change was a shrug -- a classically detached existential apathy. This acknowledgment of the arbitrary nature of human existence can be taken as a real downer, but a deeper appreciation of Kafka's point is more illuminating than glooming.
The music from the Richmond, Virginia-based four-piece called Gregor Samsa is a good soundtrack for this sort of philosophical wrangling. That might sound like pseudo-intellectual babble on my part, but the vacant lot arrangements on 55:12 give listeners room to drift and contemplate until, with either crashing abruptness or built-up entrances, the band fills in all the blanks for you.
The band's debut full-length, out on D.C.'s the Kora Records and mixed by the prolific Brian Paulson (he mixed Slint's classic Spiderland, amongst others), introduces some nice variations on the slow-core/post-rock genre. Most notably are the shared vocals between frontman Champ Bennett and his breathy female counterpart, Nikki King. Bennett and King don't possess standout voices, but both are simple in their delivery, a gritty open-your-mouth-and-sing aesthetic that is endearing and honest. King's keyboard compositions are generally subtle, providing an ambience similar to the Album Leaf's work and, coupled with string arrangements that flower throughout 55:12, provide one-half of Samsa's sound. The other half -- meaning guitar, bass and drums -- brings the post-rock massiveness element in. Although never getting as bold or loud as bands such as Mogwai, Gregor Samsa uses its heavy moments with caution and punctuation.
Sigur Ros has the luxury of hiding behind non-lyrics spoken in the tongue of gibberish; Gregor Samsa doesn't have such luck. Most of the words on 55:12 come across as afterthought, and although they're easily ignored, listeners who tune in will likely consider them one of the album's turnoffs. The lyrics are not awful; they just feel like things that don't really need to be said. Another knock on the album is that it requires your full attention. That can be taken as a compliment, but in my estimation it makes the release less versatile.
References to other bands might make it seem derivative, but when a band's music is good, not being pioneering can be overlooked. 55:12 is an excellent debut, a continuous listen that doesn't require you to skip any songs and deserves repeat plays. But it also presents an interesting dilemma to the band members: continue to hone the sound they already practice or ambitiously deconstruct it with the potential to fail.
"Young & Old" MP3 (Right Click Save As)
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