There are some bands whose names are more than names. These bands have monikers that reflect and add to the music, and the naming seems so appropriate that their music starts to define that word. Take, for example, Explosions in the Sky, whose music is just as loud, glorious, and awe-inspiring as their name implies. Or Low, whose name is probably the best word one could use to describe their slow, minimal, melodic masterpieces.
Dirge is one of those bands. Like their name suggests, their music is as slow, mournful, and downcast as a funeral march. To compare them to the aforementioned Low would not be too far-off, but it would also be lazy. For Dirge makes music that’s more rooted in post-rock than the slow core of said Duluth band (with a little Arab Strap on the side). On this mostly instrumental EP, Dirge trudges along with heavy drums and mellow guitar and a bit of grief, like mourners to some musical grave, tossing in a bit of sonic experimentation on the side, resulting in a pretty and dark first effort that’s worth a listen.
The nearly seven minute “Hidden Track” opens the EP with a slow, simple drum line, violin, and guitar. About halfway through, Yann Lafosse contributes vocals, raspy and pained and Scottish. Unfortunately, the music would probably have benefited if he kept his pipes closed; his vocals are probably the least likeable aspect about the music. On a more positive note, though, there is a sense of desolation and frailty in his voice, which only adds to the music’s darkness. “Phone” takes strummed guitar and spreads a blanket of phone beeps and dial tones over it. Again, the vocals kind of detract from the whole thing, as Lafosse talks as if on a phone. It’s a strategy reminiscent of Mogwai’s “Tracy,” and as an ambient piece, it works well, but perhaps it would have been better if they kept the phone out of it.
The band gets a little political on “Lois” (“I’ve found a second coming, a second Gulf War” speaks/sings Lafosse), but again it’s the music backing the vocals that shines. “Sympathetic Bar” is, along with the opener, the strongest track on the release. The violoncello, used in all the other tracks, is used generously here, and to brilliant effect, shredding along and sounding beautiful and mystical. It caps off a release that is both solid and misguided; musically strong, but leaning towards the obnoxious or pretentious side of things lyrically and vocally.
On a whole, though, the positives outweigh the negatives, and the band deserves quite a bit of praise for crafting the dark, pretty music they make. At a few seconds shy of twenty minutes, it’s a great way to fill up a third of an hour, especially if it happens to be a rather gloomy one. Perhaps if they can do away with Lafosse’s ramblings, they’ll be even better, but for the most part, they’re on the right track.
Written by Richie DeMaria.