Monday, September 21, 2009

AZAR - Venice is Sinking


Venice is Sinking
One Percent Press Records.

SCQ Rating: 81%

The sepia-stained shot that adorns AZAR is something to marvel at. We’ve all lived in a town like this: half-developed commercial lots, small businesses, a handful of apartments reaching for a cityscape, and always on the outskirts of something greater. Even its framing is perfect, providing a view that, at ground-level, many of us see every day. And as ‘Azar One’ opens with gloomy keys and some treated guitar, this record, perhaps appropriately, could be the work of just about any band, in any number of genres. As the strings swell and military percussion kicks in, we’re given a first slice of the grandeur that permeates Venice Is Sinking’s work; contemplative pools of rock-ambience met by a track like ‘Ryan’s Song’, which glides on a web of guitar tones under Daniel Lawson and Karolyn Troupe’s vocal harmonies.

Such is AZAR’s difficult task for duality, to proceed in hopscotch fashion through hazy melodious slowcore and instrumental suites alike without revealing its bipolarity. Given the brevity of most suites (entitled ‘Azar One’ to ‘Azar Four’), these segues are largely sympathetic to the album’s more structured compositions, providing electronic experimentation (‘Azar Three’) or ambient asides (‘Azar Two’) without being cumbersome. And although each suite deals with its own sonic palettes, they collectively share an ominous mood that unites the record thematically. The great achievement of AZAR, however, is how this quintet from Athens manages the same gracefulness with their bread-and-butter rock compositions, melding the 50s girl-group swoon of ‘Wetlands Dance Hall’ to the sighing near-waltz of ‘Young Master Sunshine’. Better yet is the one-two punch of ‘Sun Belt’ and ‘Iron Range’, the first featuring the heartbreaking viola and timbre of Troupe, the latter an affecting composition that combines brass and strings into tremendous heaves that could soundtrack a sunrise. Inevitably, ‘Sun Belt’ and ‘Iron Range’ represent AZAR’s best arrangements, striving outward in their own ways, respectively adventurous and symphonic. In these songs and those faultless transitions, AZAR earns its epic nature… which is no small feat given that the record runs at a purposeful forty-plus minutes.

That the cover-art’s matter-of-fact angle disguises the emotional weight of these songs is a no-brainer, although I don’t think that was Venice is Sinking’s purpose. As AZAR was recorded during an uncertain, stressful time for the band, this shot encompasses a ground-zero for aspiration and failure; the place you start out from being the same place you risk falling back into. This pressure of completing what could’ve been their final album forced Lawson and Troupe, backed by Lucas Jensen, James Sewell and newcomer Jeremy Sellers, to re-evaluate the importance of Venice is Sinking, and the resulting performances prove this band’s unity. We’ve all lived in AZAR… but this album makes that existence grander and sweeter.

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