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Doomsdayer's Holiday

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Album Review

The Grails have embraced open-ended, free grooving, psychedelic rock, open-toned Eastern modalism, assault-worthy hard rock, spooky dub, and even folk music in this heady, stoned out brew. The basic quartet of Emil Amos, Alex Hall, William Slater, and Zak Riles are still intact; they've augmented this set — in places — with Kate O'Brien Clarke on violin, vibist Jordan Hudson, Randall Dunn on analogue synths, and even Erik Nugent on flute. Alan Bishop makes a guest appearance as a vocalist on "Predestination Blues." While playing is one end of the spiritually tripped-out Grails' aesthetic, the other is post-production, with intricate dynamic touches, textural embellishments, dramatic flair, space, silence, and even ambience as one track segues seemingly endlessly into another — this is becoming a real trademark in the way they record.

The title track opens the record with the sound of a far off scream that can mistakenly, at first, be taken for wind blowing through an open window. It is quickly followed by thudding tom-toms, waves of muted feedback, and guitars and violins worthy of Black Sabbath's fuzzed-out bass heaviness and the flanged out space guitar in the instrumental bridge of Robin Trower's "Too Rolling Stoned." It's all overblown, slow, and menacing. It's followed by the wailing power of an Eastern European violin with bass thudding, power-amped guitar riffage and wailing snares and cymbals in "Reincarnation Blues." There are dynamic stops and starts, making the listener yearn for that heaviness to continue. And it does, with slide guitars, electric saz's, and all manner of synthed out wonkiness. But then it changes again in the relative bliss of "Natural Man," where acoustic guitars, washed out synths, reverb, and what sounds like a cembalom (but is probably piano strings being plucked), enters in slow 4/4 before being adorned with minor-key flourishes by a strummed acoustic guitar and the pillowy beauty of a sonically treated flute, vibes, melodica, and tape delays. Taken together, these three cuts have already traveled immeasurable distances musically; they stretch the notions of time and space into pure drift. The astonishing thing is that only 12 minutes have transpired. The remaining four tracks are similarly ambitious and seamless: the incantory acid dub effects on "Immediate Mate," the beautiful speaker blowout in "Predestination Blues," the pure experimental soundscape ocean that is "X-Contaminations," culminating in the glorious and majestic psychedelia of "Acid Rain" (reminiscent in scope of "Echoes" on Pink Floyd's Meddle). The end of the album feels like the nadir of a particularly vivid dream that encompasses both true darkness and ecstatic light. The Grails have once more pushed their own sonic terrain, where all that is familiar to them is woven into a gorgeously textured fabric with all that could be envisioned by them at this point in time, with the listener as the true beneficiary.


Formed: 1999 in Portland, OR

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Instrumental rock band Grails began in Portland, Oregon in 1999 as a bedroom project never meant for the stage. Initially consisting of Alex J. Hall and Paul Spitz on guitar, Emil Amos (also of Holy Sons) on drums and guitar, Timothy Horner on violin, and William Slater on bass and keyboards, the group first used the moniker Laurel Canyon while venturing out live on a dare and producing two EPs of recorded material. By the time they had stirred up interest and landed a deal with Neurot Records, they...
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Doomsdayer's Holiday, Grails
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