What We All Come to Need marks a welcome return to and expansion of Pelican’s riff-heavy strengths, particularly coming off of 2007’s misfire, City of Echoes. The Chicago-based band’s sound is well-worn by now, yet the album find the band following a similar course as the songs on it: bracing, attuned to composition and density, yet capable of surprises and unexpected satisfying progress. Possibly most important is this: Pelican’s fourth album is their heaviest to date.
Opener “Glimmer” sludges methodically through the album’s first minutes, a thick, studied heaviness that leads into a tightly pirouetting guitar lines by guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Schroeder-Lebec. Passages unfold naturally, both melodic and reflective, in a signature loud-to-soft twang. The band’s oft-maligned rhythm section — inferior to the point of distraction in Pelican’s early work — has found its stride, building purposefully to a bruising crescendo.
“The Creeper’s” atmospheric Brontosaurus gait plods into a bent-note, open-string riff, a bottom-heavy strut alternating with overwhelming doom. The transitions are complementary, yet they teeter on a precarious conflict. With a guest appearance by Greg Anderson (of Sunn O)))) contributing crushing guitar work, “The Creeper” echoes and volleys over the wasteland its wrath has seared and stomped flat. The sarcastically dubbed “Creeper” thunders to a close, Anderson’s open-stringed sustain coasting ominously over the gloom, the heaviest track on the album and perhaps in Pelican’s entire oeuvre.
Sprinkles of brightness emerge through the droning. “Specks of Light” uncovers some high-register guitar riffs before stepping into a double-time stomp that allows bassist Bryan Herweg to show off his textural and tonal deftness in an uncharacteristically frisky and funky exercise. The grunge-y, descending sustain at the conclusion follows sparkly elements of shoegaze and jangling indie rock, briefly revealing Pelican’s sunnier side. That producer and engineer Chris Common maintains such clarity in the crowded, sprawling sonic space, with all parts audible and recognizable amidst the din, is a superior accomplishment.
“Ephemeral” channels a rich stoner-metal groove, one of the thickest Pelican has yet to lock into. Interspersed with open-string chugging of a demonic steam train, the guitars drop out for a rounded bass-and-drum jaunt before thundering back to elaborate pogoing leads and droning rhythm. Allen Epley of the Life and Times joins the band for album closer “A Final Breath,” contributing airy, ominous vocals over the droning flanged landscape. The vocals, a first for Pelican, coexist rather than overwhelm and vanish dreamily shortly after they appear.
Unlike City of Echoes’ clumsy attempts at reinvention, What We All Come to Need is a largely successful display of Pelican’s well-defined sound with the invigoration of guest star peers and promising glimmers of growth. Though its chugging repeated guitar riffs almost always descend rather than move upward, the band’s output continues to expand in complexity and ambition.