Long Distance Calling are a band that has a reputation for almost starting from scratch with each new album. I made the comment in my review for their previous album that the band “seem to take on a different aspect of the post-rock expanse for each subsequent release. Each of their albums has been quite different, and in that respect they are possibly one of the most progressive of post-rock bands.” Thus it comes as no surprise that Eraser is a very different album from its predecessor. And yet, in many ways it seems almost to be a companion album. Recorded during the uncertainty of the global pandemic, which was a frustrating and frightening time for most musicians as their very livelihood (more than so many other occupations) was on the line; perhaps this is why Long Distance Calling seem to be continuing upon a theme. Eraser and How Do We Want To Live? are conceptually quite similar, and tell the same story from different viewpoints.
The band have made clear that this is an album about endangered species. Each track is supposedly dedicated to a particular animal, though it is not always obvious which that is. But what is clear is the lack of human voice – either in samples or vocals. This is not an album for the human voice, but those of the animals. You can hear the difference as where How Do We Want To Live? had a futuristic sound full of samples and synths, all clean and clinical, Eraser has a rawer, more natural and organic feel. It’s the sound of a band playing together in the studio, rather than studio tricks augmenting the performance. In this sense, sonically it’s reminiscent of Long Distance Calling’s debut, Satellite Bay. That’s not to say there are not additions to the band’s performance, but this time around they are not samples and synths, but strings and woodwinds – real strings and eal woodwinds, no less!
Wonderfully, these additional instruments aren’t applied in the manner you might expect. So often instruments like strings and woodwinds are used to create a symphonic background, as you might find on many prog and prog metal albums, that is bombastic and almost used as a background “wall of sound”. There’s often no subtlety or beauty in the way symphonic elements are added to prog. However, Long Distance Calling use these elements sparingly, and beautifully. To my ears, they almost provide leitmotifs, and I’ll go even further – those leitmotifs are reminiscent, for me, of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the plot of which, as I’m sure we all know, sees the triumph of man (Peter) taming nature (the wolf). It’s not difficult to make comparisons with the animals of Eraser. Like Prokofiev’s wolf, we may end up seeing some of these animals only in a zoo, if at all.
The album begins with a quiet and melancholy tune entitled Enter: Death Box, which eventually reveals itself to be an inverted reprise of the title track, with the two tracks beautifully bookending the album. I can’t say I know exactly what the band mean by this title, but it brings to my mind the spreadsheets used to record the movements of endangered and vulnerable birds in New Zealand (and probably other countries). There are a number of boxes for data to be entered, including Sex, Area, Frequency, On, Off, Total… and the Death box. The track itself is very short, and works more as an introduction to Blades, which crashes in with a great heaviness. Without the delicacy and beauty of Enter: Death Box, Blades would not have the impact it does.
Probably because birds are already on my mind from Enter: Death Box, I imagine the blades to be those of a wind turbine. The blades of wind turbines are known bird killers. Millions of birds around the world are killed by the blades. While proponents of wind drams will point to studies that show that generally less than 1% of any one country’s bird population is affected, this is a case of seeing what you want to see from statistics. Studies also overwhelmingly show that due to location, endangered and vulnerable bird species are disproportionately victims of wind turbine blades, and almost solely due to wind turbine deaths, some species have been moved from vulnerable to endangered, or endangered to critically endangered. And, honestly, if you can’t hear the way the music turns, you must be deaf. The sense of turning is so tangible it is incredible. The use of dynamics is great, too. Just as when you see a wind turbine from a distance, and the blades appear to be turning slowly, when you are right underneath them, you realise how fast they actually turn. So the spinning sensation of the music seems slower when it is quieter (further away), and faster when it is heavier (closer).
The lead single, Kamilah, follows – the subject of which is the gorilla famous for being the first to have its full genome sequenced. Am I imagining it? Is it because I’m still reeling from the turning sensation of Blades? Or do those galloping and intertwining Maiden-like passages resemble the double helix structure of DNA? Maybe the visuals I get from Blades and Kamilah were not what was intended by the band, but it just goes to show how great the music is that it can provoke such images (intended or not). Just as a good book will always beat a film adaptation, because it makes your imagination soar; so will a good piece of instrumental music always beat one with vocals. (There are two species of gorilla, each with two sub-species. All four are critically endangered, with the main threats being poaching and habitat loss.)
I’m aware of how long this review already is, so I’m wary of continuing track by track, suffice to say that all are both affective and effective. I have never before considered that the vocal samples and lyrics might have distracted, or even detracted, from the music of Long Distance Calling (their previous album was probably my favourite yet, which shows that the sheer amount of samples didn’t spoil that release for me), but without them, the music really does fire the imagination, and seems almost as visual as it is audio. Dynamically, this is possibly the most diverse Long Distance Calling album, and that also helps inspire those visuals. I have not yet decided whether I like this more than How Do We Want To Live?, but these two (together or apart) are my favourites in Long Distance Calling’s consistently great discography.
I guess I need to mention Sloth as it is likely to be the stand-out track for many. Appropriately for its title, it is probably the slowest Long Distance Calling number ever. Especially with the addition of Jørgen Munkeby guesting on saxophone, this almost sounds like some lost Pink Floyd track. Long Distance Calling have always had a Floydian tinge to their music, but this is taking that sound to whole new levels, while never sounding derivative. Sloth still sounds like Long Distance Calling, but drawn out to a quite sublime slow pace that is simply beautiful. It’s followed by the second single, Giants Leaving, which again brings me imagery from back home, as Dunedin (my hometown) is, I believe, the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross. Given that albatross are known for their long wingspan (one species has the longest wingspan of all birds, and five of the next nine birds, by length of wingspan, are also species of albatross), this is a surprisingly short song – but, especially after Sloth, appropriately uplifting, soaring to heights not yet felt on this album. If you have the vinyl, I guess this is an absolute banger to start side two, and will probably be a real crowd pleaser when played live. (All but seven of the world’s 22 species of albatrosses are threatened with extinction, with the main threat being incidental death (bycatch) by commercial fisheries.)
With Landless King, one of the key issues regarding survival of the endangered and vulnerable species is addressed (or perhaps, addressed once more, but more overtly than previously). While the “king of beasts” is not endangered (the lion is listed as vulnerable), three quarters of their populations are in decline, and it is estimated that at the current rate of decline (due to poaching and, yes, habitat loss) the lion will be extinct in the wild by 2050. Like Prokofiev’s wolf, if you want to see the lion, you will need to go to the zoo. The music for this track is suitably majestic, full of poise and gravitas. But it also feels confined, and there are passages which really do, for me, sound like the lion pacing back and forth in its enclosure (as anyone who has seen a lion at the zoo, may have witnessed). Thus there is a certain sadness about this track, although it ends on what sounds like a quite optimistic passage to me. This naturally leads to the last track, and the last species – us.
It’s almost a callback to the last track of How Do We Want To Live? Humanity is the virus. Humanity is the “Eraser”. We are responsible for the habitat loss, for the poaching, for the incidental death by “Blades” or bycatch, for the climate change. Humanity on one hand are the ones who are endangering all these species, and ultimately our own species also. Yet, on the other, we are the only ones who can do anything about any of this. We are the only ones who can push back the habitat loss, prevent the poaching and incidental death, and do something about climate change. Only we can save these endangered species, including ourselves. I could bring this back to Prokofiev and Peter and the Wolf once more. The moral for that symphonic fairy tale is often given as one variation or another of “the only way to be a hero is to take some risks”. Eraser is the darkest track on the album, but it’s always darkest before dawn. What we do (or don’t do) on the new day could either help out future, or seal our fate. How Do We Want To Live?
01. Enter: Death Box (1:17)
02. Blades (4:39)
03. Kamilah (6:57)
04. 500 Years (7:31)
05. Sloth (7:23)
06. Giants Leaving (3:28)
07. Blood Honey (10:17)
08. Landless King (6:27)
09. Eraser (9:18)
Total Time – 57:17
Janosch Rathmer – Drums
David Jordan – Guitar
Florian Füntmann – Guitar
Jan Hoffmann – Bass
Christine Rudolf – Violin
Matthias Fleige – Trombone
Nico Wellers – Trumpet
Görkem Cicek – Cello
Jørgen Munkeby – Saxophone (track 5)
Jojo Brunn – Piano (tracks 1,5 & 9)
Record Label: earMUSIC
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 26th August 2022