“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks” – Warren Buffett.
Forever Becoming, Pelican’s fifth full-length, is an album
full of surprises. It seems that, somewhere along the line, expectations
of it pre-release had fallen and, judging by the flurry of mediocre
reviews that have been rushed out so far, it has been sorely
underestimated post-release. There’s no doubting that perceptions of the
band will have changed in line with their new artistic direction, but
considering the album has to be listened to as a whole to be fully
appreciated and will probably perform most admirably in the live arena,
it seems a bit too early to be nailing it to a cross.
Oddly, their previous efforts have all featured strongly in their
recorded formats, but have never shaken souls when performed. The reason
for this may be that each one’s lighter touches and deeper level of
atmospheric layering can so often get lost in the sound-desk, the roof
cavities or the ether. Combine that loss with their music’s expansive
drift and their “heads down” approach to performance art and you can
imagine the fleeting impression they make on the less ardent fan. That
will all change now that Forever Becoming has dropped – its almighty bottom-end and relentless groove will snap necks and burst chests.
The tour-de-force, ‘Deny The Absolute’, is nothing less than
a conveyor belt of riffs. One after another after another, the guitar
patterns cycle and build, each welding itself to the track’s backbone – a
combo of surprisingly uncomplicated drum thunder and an equally
compelling bassline that grinds and fizzes throughout. Together this all
creates a series of wall-to-wall grooves that will swallow everything
in its path. ‘The Tundra’ sucks up a little piece of High On Fire‘s
sludge-packing inferno and breathes back a bitter rancour that ditches
itself into a swaggering rut that rumbles forth down a doom-ridden path
into gritty feedback. ‘Immutable Dusk‘ flexes more stoner
muscle pitching bass-loaded menace and winding aggression into a series
of warmer tones that rapidly completes their reformation into a
confident position of power.
What’s most impressive about all this is that they haven’t just
sandblasted their former attack to achieve this razor-sharp edge. They
have blended the new with everything that has made their albums so
eloquent in the past, beefed up on the parts that needed bolstering,
tightened their focus and produced an album that flows from track to
track with a silken elegance. Gone are the zig-zag of emotions and the
song-by-song paucity. No, you can simply lose yourself in the basal
journey of Forever Becoming and emerge out the other side
believing it to be one single thread. As an example, the eight-minute
two-tiered multi-coloured wanderlust of ‘Thredony‘ clashes heads with ‘The Cliff’ which in turn touches base with the motivational bliss of ‘Vestiges‘ in such a way that you would hardly notice the dip between the threesome.
When they do back off, we get the album bookends. Polar opposites, opener ‘Terminal‘
offers a soft foray into the darkness, backed by a hefty heartbeat of
falling tom strikes whilst the stunningly rich, glorious tapestry of
closer ‘Perpetual Dawn’ provides wave after wave of warmth and
euphoria to bathe in. They form the preface and appendix to the book
that you simply can’t put down. Once you turn that page, absolute
absorption in the rhythmic drive and mind-expanding layering is not an
option. It’s the aural equivalent of having all your pleasure receptors
firing off at once. They haven’t showed anything like this kind of
combined dexterity, determined pacing and gut-deep fury before.
Enforced change can be such a difficult process, so the initial human
reaction is to fear the unknown, to err on the side of caution.
Pelican, however, have laughed in the face of such dithering and have
grasped their opportunity with gusto, swapping their elegant sailing
boat for a stonking great powerboat and, boy, ain’t it a beaut. With
turbos like the one on this bad boy, they really are ready for lift off.
Keep your eyes peeled for those end of year lists – judging by its
sleek lines and almighty wake, Forever Becoming should feature strongly.