A Gaze Among Them

Written by: AP on 19/01/2020 18:21:39

The turn of the year is the time when critics stress about all the fantastic music they might have missed out on during the last 12 months, and when I spotted Big|Brave’s latest album “A Gaze Among Them” on several trustworthy best of the year lists in the end of December, I knew it was one of those records that had somehow managed to evade me. Needless to say, I have since caught up and, like many others, had the epiphany of discovering something quite fresh and unique in this eclectic trio from Montreal, QC. It is all the rage at the moment to label artists ‘avant-garde’ when they mix things up and deviate from the norm, and Big|Brave certainly fit the profile on this album. In loose terms, the songs here are amalgams of drone, post-metal and shoegaze, yet their dynamics and the unusually dramatic vocal performance by frontwoman Robin Wattie render them unlike anything I have heard before.

I guess one could say that Big|Brave live up to their moniker. The soundscapes presented on these five tracks are vast and voluminous, and the three musicians take bold steps to ensure that while the pace remains very slow throughout, the music never gets to be repetitive. The opening track “Muted Shifting of Space” provides a good window into how they achieve this, with drums that flow with the velocity of a glacier, a distorted bass line that rumbles like an active volcano, and a guitar that roars and screeches and swells like the bellows of some primal beast. It is a slow-burning epic, with a Machiavellian atmosphere conjured mainly by the mischievous style of singing employed by Wattie, whose voice reminds me of both Anna von Hausswolff and Julie Christmas (particularly when she frantically repeats, “You don’t have to do this! You don’t get to do this!”, just before a quietus arrives around the 05:25 mark) — and as such it spells out the formula to which Big|Brave subscribe for the majority of the five tracks featured on the album. Ordinarily, this kind of invariance might result in a stagnant and wearisome record, but with such an enveloping, dreamlike atmosphere as reigns throughout “A Gaze Among Them”, it actually ends up being deeply entrancing instead.

Returning to the suggestion that Big|Brave have some bold ideas for what music can be; nowhere is this more pronounced than in the second track “Holding Pattern”, which truly is an exercise in how to use minimalism to your advantage. It is hard to believe at first, but despite clocking in more than 9 and a half minutes of runtime, the song consists of only a single guitar chord, which Wattie and her compatriot Mathieu Ball bend and twist, palm-mute and let ring, and pick and pluck in so many different ways that it might even have caused Jimi Hendrix to raise an eyebrow had he lived to hear it. I am not claiming that the one-chord riffs here are anything like Hendrix’s, but the experiment of trying to get the most out of the instrument without actually moving your left hand does still warrant the comparison, I think. It was actually because of this song that I was alerted to the existence of Big|Brave — it was one of the most audacious, yet ultimately satisfying tracks I had heard in a long time; loud, immersive and with a psychedelic air… and just so different.

If you consider yourself to be a fan of the aforementioned Anna von Hausswolff, then the following “Body Individual” should be exactly up your alley. It is the first song on “A Gaze Among Them” to deviate from the core somewhat, juxtaposing an ominous rumble in the low end with pedalboard ambience in the first half, before introducing a wall of droning, fuzzy noise and eventually imploding into the void that is “This Deafening Verity”, in which Wattie’s singing takes on a solo role amid what sounds like breaths from an organ. These breaths grow louder and more synthesised as the album closer “Sibling” then takes over, and while the contrast between these dark, bassooning synth keys and Wattie’s ethereal voice is quite interesting, I have to admit that this particular song is a tad too avant-garde to arouse a feeling equivalent to what I still experience when listening to any of the first three cuts here. Whereas “Holding Pattern” weaves magic from minimalism, “Sibling” is simply too sparse to justify its occupying 7 minutes of the total running length, and sadly, it thus produces a somewhat frustrating conclusion to an otherwise spellbinding album.

“A Gaze Among Them” had no trouble muscling its way to my list of favourite albums from 2019 but it should be said that enjoying it necessitates at least a degree of predisposition to drone music. If tremendous walls of noise, overhung by a dreamy atmosphere and pierced by vivacious singing, sound like your cup of tea, however, then Big|Brave should be in a good position to becoming your new favourite artist.


Download: Muted Shifting of Space, Holding Pattern, Body Individual
For the fans of: Anna von Hausswolff, Julie Christmas, Mamiffer, Wreck and Reference
Listen: Facebook

Release date 10.05.2019
Southern Lord

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