I wanted to be so wrong on this one, folks. I wanted my initial observations to turn out to be misguided. I heard the hype, calling Aereogramme the next big thing in post-rock, following the likes of Mogwai. I listened, and was disappointed. So I gave the disc a little space. It sat in my glove compartment for a month or so, until I pulled it out one sunny Saturday afternoon. I thought the “Labradford phenomena” might occur yet again, as the disc started spinning in my car.
The album sure starts off on the right foot, with metallic scrapings and frantic drumbeats giving way to a wall of guitars reminiscent of Fold Zandura’s aggressive atmospherics. But as quickly as the guitars rattle your speakers, they give way to a more subdued part that starts building up under Craig B’s (Ganger) soft vocals. So far, so good.
The quiet/loud thing is certainly blistering and exciting à la Sonic Youth, Roadside Monument, and countless others. There’s another quiet part, this time with a soft piano melody and the odd guitar scraping. But as the song progresses, its focus begins to weaken. The song’s final moments finds Craig clumsily trying to throttle more and more noise from his guitar. But rather than increase the song’s potency, his wrangling sticks out like a sore thumb. You almost wish his strings would break, if only to bring the song to an end.
But with “Post-Tour, Pre-Judgement,” Aereogramme seems to have regained their composure. Again the quiet/loud dynamics, this time exploding into a gorgeous cascade of guitar and organ, as Craig sings “In a way, without hate/I wouldn’t be what I am.” As it continues, it seems like Aereogramme is well on their way to delving deeper and deeper into the song’s guts. The song’s melody takes on a darker leaning, and Craig implores “Undecided, should I pray to something else?.” But suddenly, the song devolves into a torrent of angst-ridden screams and distorted guitars that just, well, feel laughable and clumsy compared to the emotional opening minutes.
And so it goes for much of the album. Aereogramme always seems to introduce a fatal flaw into their songs. Each starts off beautifully, but by the end, it’s been messed up and irrevocably harmed by some misplaced element. There’s the secondhand screaming on “Shouting For Joey,” which sounds like the early demos Zao hoped noone would find. Aereogramme’s guitar effects feel equally clumsy; half the time, it sounds like someone accidentally tripped over their pedal and they simply forgot to take the blunder out of the final mix.
But it’s the band’s sense of continuity, more than anything else, that hurts the album. Their sudden transitions from soft, introspective melodies to all-out noise assaults is exciting at first, but the novelty quickly wears off. It keeps you on your toes for only so long, until you realize you can see it coming from a mile away. And when the song finally does erupt, it’s much more underwhelming than it was two songs ago.
That’s not to say the album doesn’t have it’s finer moments. Both “Egypt” and “Sunday 3:52” rival Mogwai’s more subdued moments with their delicate beauty. Craig’s soft vocals feel much better suited for these quieter moments, especially on “Sunday 3:52,” when accompanied by guitar plucking and a lovely string arrangement. Although “Will You Still Find Me?” doesn’t reach the same highs and lows as, say, “Zionist Timing,” it feels much more consistent with its softer, airier approach. The same goes for “Motion,” which again achieves greater emotional impact without having to resort to some awkward shift in volume and tone. When that shift does occur, it feels and sounds natural.
But these moments don’t make up for the album’s inherent awkwardness. True, if I listen to just two or three tracks, Aereogramme does get my heart rate up when they decide to launch it into the stratosphere. However, if you stand A Story in White up against the output of their peers (Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky, et al), they always come away feeling outclassed and outgunned.