Gregor Samsa

Gregor Samsa

Gregor Samsa

Rest

The Kora Records

This aptly-named, Kafka-referencing collective displays the same melancholy calm as the best of the master’s characters — accepting the hurt and beauty of existence — and like Kafka’s books, Gregor Samsa’s music mirrors quiet desperation and hopes of escape. There’s a steely discipline in the heart of this teardrop soft, lushly orchestrated music. The multi-headed Samsa crafted the multi-layered baroque of Rest largely via email, as members are scattered all across the United States. I just find it fucking fascinating that they could stay focused, even with distance and the hum of everyday life, to create such a concise and well-crafted body of songs. Rest is peaceful, quietly majestic music, utilitarian and content to be what it is instead of some world-conquering sellout nonsense; it makes me think of long wooden hallways and Japanese lanterns swaying gently in a spring breeze.

Opener “The Adolescent” is almost impossibly fragile — with stately piano mirrored by vibraphone that sounds like wind chimes on a starry summer night, strings, and whispered female vocals, all joining together into a rich, full whole to create a placid sense of place, reminiscent of thinking back to the last days of your childhood, the bittersweet taste in the back of your mouth. The found noises gently intruding at the end, they’re just the march of the adult world toward you. Listen to the quiet, inexorable lockstep build of “Abutting, Dismantling.” A one-chord mantra of echoing piano with clarinet and xylophone keeping in line for a while and then wandering in and out, vocals are muffled, but intimate, a secret told in the air that you can’t quite hear.

“First Mile, Last Mile” calls to mind the aether-soft balladry of the Bill Evans Trio, with Evans at his most medicated, a shuffling lullaby, packed tightly with negative space, marching drums and liquid piano lines. Until harsh guitar drones and feedback cut in, elbowing out depressive strings, everything becomes wilder, more feral, and unpredictable and primal, in stark contrast to the delicate restraint of so much else on the album. It’s disquieting, until an alien tone poem lulls everyone back into the amniotic pool. “Du Meine Leisa” feels like one of those space stream lullabies that J. Spaceman perfected with his Spiritualized — male and female voices join together across space and time, all in hopes of connection, subliminal tones and hums gradually coalesce around amazing piano chords and a lone cello — face tilted toward the sun’s infinite warmth.

Gregor Samsa jettisons all rockist poses and rugged individualism for poised and communal wonderment; guitars are mostly absent, as are drums, center space is given to reflective, autumnal piano pieces, gently interlocking with strings, vibes, clarinet, and the sweetly whispered harmonies of Nikki King, Champ Bennett, and Rick Alverson as if in delirious late-night conversation, where no one can hear you, the whole house is asleep. The silent partner is the lush space between each carefully played note. Rest is chamber ambiance — softly glittering drone wrought with human hands.

The Kora Records: www.thekorarecords.com

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