RADVENT Day 20: Grails’ “Black Tar Prophecies Vol. 4, 5, & 6”

For the first 24 days of December, Radio in Opposition and guests will share with you one very special album, one day at a time. We call it RADVENT.

Today’s selection for RADVENT comes from our good friend Shamus McGroggan, co-founder/producer of Tape Swap Radio.

There’s a certian brazenness that comes with being an instrumental band, let alone one that consistently tries to push the limits of its sound. Without lyrics or a vocal melody to focus the listener’s attention, each note from the guitar, each beat chosen by the drummer, is given that much more weight. A song lives or dies in the mind of the listener by these choices and these choices alone. This is not a task to be undertaken by a musician weak at heart. At least not one that wants to run the risk of being accused of art’s ultimate sin– being boring.

Grails has been called a lot of things–psychedelic, spaghetti western, cinematic, post-rock. I’d say a little of all of these are true. But boring? Not so much. The latest release from the Portland, Oregon four-piece is their second go around at assembling their catalogue’s rarities into a single package. The results range from terrifying to tender.

Black Tar Prophecies Vols. 4, 5 & 6 isn’t so much a cohesive album, as a stroll into a disjointed subconscious. There’s moments of uneasiness (“New Drug II”) followed immediately by quiet contemplation complete with pretty piano melodies (“A Mansion Has Many Rooms”). The album burns brightest with the first proper track, “Self-Hypnosis”, which sees the band latching onto a deep psychedelic groove and not letting go until they’ve properly exercised their demons.

It was “Self-Hypnosis” that served as my introduction to Grails and this album earlier this year. Anyone hearing this song shouldn’t expect the rest of the material on this album to sound exactly like it. Grails are not just a bunch of Floyd worshippers, but, then again, they aren’t afraid to explore a deeply-laid psych groove now and then either.

Whether or not this compilation is really the best place to begin with Grails’ music, I can’t say. It’s where I started, so it’s where I point other interested parties. I do know that the discordent elements of these tracks come togther in their own oddly palletable way and the resulting pastiche is worth your attention this winter. If nothing else. put on “Up All Night” and watch the snow fall sometime.