They’re back at the forefront of the instrumental rock field.
Mike Diver 2009
Four albums into a career that began in 2001, one could be forgiven for thinking they’d got Pelican pegged. Slotting easily into post-something pigeonholes in the past, the Chicago band have struggled to really stand out from the pack of sound-alike outfits they, in part, inspired. Until now, as they’ve come out fighting with a set that pricks the ears like little they’ve done before.
What We All Come to Need is a fantastic, dynamic collection which ups the ante considerably from the band’s previous long-player, 2007’s disappointingly generic City of Echoes. Whereas that album followed a tried-and-tested formula to the letter, here Pelican adopt compositional elements from stoner-rock circles and beyond, slowing their riffs down so that they bludgeon like a cartoon anvil inside a pillow case – softly enough initially, but once the blows have accumulated a delightful dizziness sets it. There’s menace to the band, too, with tracks like Ephemeral layering ominous guitar lines atop each other until the listener either embraces their fate or flees from their home stereo.
With fellow townsfolk Russian Circles largely stripping away the slow builds common in post-rock to instead go straight to the best bit, the gut-churning bombast, the standard for instrumental rock in 2009 is high, especially after so many years of compositional déjà vu. But Pelican successfully reach for said heights, with rollicking riffs interwoven with immense skill and arranged to encircle mountainous percussion, every constituent track a half-speed head-rush of super-amplified euphoria. The control the four-piece exhibit is commendable – there are points where lesser acts would simply step on the pedals and make with the ear-bleeding noise, but Pelican’s restraint and sense of timing is second to none.
Granted, there’s little on show that’s truly original – it’s tough to exhibit brand new ideas in a genre so very dependent on meeting audience expectations: Loud follows Quiet and is in turn succeeded by Louder Still – but the artistry is in the execution, and in songs like the bass-led Specks of Light and the title track Pelican earn A grades for accomplished performances. And there are even some (welcomed) vocals, from Allen Epley of The Life and Times/Shiner, on rumbling closer Final Breath.
After being consigned to rank among the also-rans with their last long-player, it’s a pleasure indeed to have Pelican back where they belong: at the forefront of the instrumental rock field.