Nearly six years on from their breakthrough and fifth studio album Deep Politics finds Portland, Oregon instrumental electronica crossover project Grails having refined their sound further on Chalice Hymnal. If I may deploy an over-used reviewers staple, this album is cinematic, and then some.
The sound is refined in that it occasionally revisits the heavier vibe of earlier albums, putting it through a soundtrack filter, with all the expected influences from spaghetti westerns to Floydian touches, and a few post-rock tropes, to the spacier end of Krautrock present and correct. The vast soundscapes, where each track sticks to its individual theme within an all-encompassing whole, really come to life when you blast it out of a 5.1 system at neighbour-terrifying volume. This thing is a sensurround soundtrack to that never-ending movie in your head.
From the Euro-pop of the opening tile track, through the vast echoing emptiness of Empty Chamber, through the submerged heavy menace of New Prague, to the romantic glow of Rebecca, this album is expansive mood music for troubled times. Because of that, I find that Chalice Hymnal is one of those albums I have to be in the right frame of mind for, and unfortunately it does not fit the unsettled mood of these strange times where I often find myself needing to listen to louder, more spiky fare. However, it does have its place as contemplative music, and it works well enough both as a deep listen and as background music.
To sum up, Chalice Hymnal is pleasant but by no means essential, and in the constant tsunami of releases these days it could easily be buried in the flotsam and jetsam of the ceaseless tide, which is a shame as it is a classy production. It may well be that I have moved on from where I was when I reviewed Deep Politics way back in 2011. You may love it, who am I to judge?
01. Chalice Hymnal (4:23)
02. Pelham (2:49)
03. Empty Chamber (2:33)
04. New Prague (4:51)
05. Deeper Politics (3:49)
06. Tough Guy (3:57)
07. Rebecca (3:48)
08. Deep Snow II (5:48)
09. The moth & The Flame (4:08)
10. Thorns II (4:00)
11. After The Funeral (10:19)
Total Time – 50:28
Alex Hall – Electric Guitar, Mellotron, Synthesiser
Emil Amos – Drums, Guitars, Piano, Synthesiser
Zak Riles – Guitars
Record Label: Temporary Residence
Catalogue#: TRR 279
Date of Release: 17th February 2017