What is it about the end of the world that so fascinates us? Is it some innate sense of fatalism that our past few generations have been programmed with? Is it instead the sense of freedom from responsibility that the end of everything brings with it? Or even a simple sense of self-importance that makes us feel like the logical conclusion to humanity as we know it?
Maybe it's instead, as Sun Ra put it and Brutal Truth so emphatically agreed, “after the end of the world” that's the true focus of our fascination with the Apocalypse. Rather than waiting for the end of everything, we're waiting to be the golden ticket-holders left over when the rest of everything gets tossed in the Great Garbage Disposal of the Cosmos.
Whatever the case may be, that survival beyond the end is the focus of this collection of songs. Bookended by two songs about the post-nuke fallout, “Nuclear Winter (Dispatches)” and “Nuclear Winter,” rather than talk about the circumstances of its happening, the guts of this album instead focus on what goes on after the big one.
In terms of musical style, Natural Snow Buildings (a French duo made up musicians Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte) craft an ever-shifting amalgam of acoustic drone, folk and post-rock grandeur well-suited to their subject matter. Previewing one or two tracks is by no means a proper introduction to the group (even one or two albums really doesn't do justice to the full scope of their talents,) since they cycle through minimal, tone-based droning, slow, string-heavy post-rock and eerie, vocal-augmented folk throughout the course of an album, all the while keeping, for the most part, a respectably even pace.
After the short noise/drone opening “Nuclear Winter” (which always sounds to me like it's going to lead into a Pig Destroyer album rather than one filled with post-rock and folk) come a pair of tracks, “If I Can Find My Way Through the Darkness...” and “...I Came Down Here,” which set the blueprint for the album's post-rock-leaning tracks with slow, orchestral instrumentals that echo and chime, moving ever forward like the protagonists in Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
What are by far my favorite tracks are the two vocaled folk tracks, “Sun” and “Guns & Rifles.” Don't make the mistake of assuming that these two are my favorites simply because they've got vocals; rather, they're my favorites because they've got damned excellent vocals. The first of the two, “Sun,” is a dark, eerie acoustic guitar track that's kept lovingly bare-bones, showcasing the humanity inherent in fret noise and the emotion-rich vocals of Ameziane. The fact that the arrangement doesn't move beyond letting the second guitar chime in atmospherically lets the lyrics hit that much harder, making sure that a line like “This fucking sun keeps staring at me” leaves you shivering. “Guns & Rifles,” on the other hand, takes longer to build, opening with strings and only revealing itself as a folk tune halfway through. This allows the band to further show their range, proving that they're more than a band that can just play several disparate styles of music. Because of its slower build, “Guns & Rifles” is a fuller song, with piano, strings and guitar all stacked onto the track before the unstable, heavy-hearted vocals make their appearance. When Ameziane says, “I remember many colors, many tortures,” we can't help but believe him, because we've been hearing it in his voice the whole time.
Similar to the album by the Body that I reviewed last month, Ghost Folks has no shortage of sampled-based tracks. “With A Stolen Red Lipstick Bible On Her Side” sports a lengthy piece presumably taken from an interview in which an old woman details her childhood wagon trip across America, complete with stories of encounters with Native American warriors and the murder of a farmer and his daughter. One track, “The Haunted Falls (Let Us Now Praise Harry Powell),” is entirely built from samples, and its 1:26 run time seems to be built entirely from gospel singing from The Night of the Hunter (Harry Powell being the sinister preacher who is the central character of that film, and who inexplicably announces himself, constantly, by singing gospel tunes.) Another sample, plopped near the beginning of “...I Came Down Here,” finds its speaker shift between detailing all of the things she'd change in the world (“I'd take every single hungry person and feed 'em, I'd take every single rich person and take away their money”) to discussing her own mortality (“After Kent State, I realized I could put on a cheerleader's sweater and an 'I Love America' pin and if he could even shoot, if he could even aim it wouldn't do me any good.”) These other voices lend humanity to the proceedings, peopling our post-apocalyptic world with more than the usual dust and echoes of post-rock and drone territory.
The one track on the album that I can't help but label a glaring misstep is the one simply titled “...” Barely classifiable as music except for the fact that it's bookended by tracks that are indeed music and it can't be seen to serve any other purpose, the average experience while listening to this track will be 3:21 spent trying to decide what's going on (and if you illegally downloaded the album, that time will be spent trying to figure out if the version you grabbed was somehow corrupted.) The only audible sounds seem to be recorded through the wall of another room, or on a hill in a brisk wind, and the only explanation for the track's inclusion on an album would seem to be either that the band was pressed for time in finding an eleventh track or that the recording itself had such a special significance to the band that they felt the need to include it despite the fact that it's barely listenable and that you'll probably think the album has stopped entirely if you're not listening through headphones.
This is by no means a perfect album, and it may frustrate those without the patience to sit through a 65-minute drone/folk/post-rock survival course, but it offers such a unique experience, as well as one that I keep coming back to, that I highly suggest an examination of the full range of its charms before you deem it not your cup of rare, scavenged Tetley tea bags.