If you were to ask me to name my favorite Do Make Say Think release, I honestly couldn’t tell you. I would probably have to go with whichever album I had listened to most recently, and then offer to make you a mixtape so you could decide for yourself. As such, I’d have to go with Goodbye Enemy Airship The Landlord Is Dead, their second album and the first where their music really began to solidify for me. It might also be the most contradictory album in the oeuvre of an outfit that has made a career out of blending disparate sounds into a consistent and graceful whole.
On the one hand, Goodbye Enemy Airship… feels like the band’s most focused and mapped out album. Each of the album’s songs seem methodical and thought-out, as if the quintet sat down throughout the recording process and mapped out each progression, feint, and climax you hear. As a result, it does seem a bit colder and more brooding than the band’s most recent albums (2002’s & Yet & Yet and 2003’s Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn).
But at the same time, it strikes me that Goodbye Enemy Airship… might also be the most noticeably flawed of the band’s albums. Not flawed in the sense that it’s unenjoyable or lacking in any way, but rather that you can actually hear the band screw up from time to time.
It might be a dropped guitar line, a flubbed drum fill, or a note that rings slightly out of place, but they immediately jump out at me, sometimes moreso than others. Rather than seem jarring or annoying, however, they actually increase the music’s depth and intrigue, preventing it from falling into a rut that might have trapped a lesser band (think of it as a post-rock spin on the old Amish tradition of including a minute mistake in any work you do, as a sign of humility and brokenness).
Such “mistakes” add to the album’s mercurial sound, making it almost impossible at times to predict just how the song will develop (even after having listened to it countless times). And more importantly, these cracks in the album’s dense sound allow small slivers of humanity to shine through, carving additional facets into the beauty of these songs. And what beauty there is…
A sparse, ragged guitar starts off “When Day Chokes The Night.” However, it seems more interested in meandering about and exploring different textures rather than in playing a definable melody. A descending bassline slowly emerges, followed by ringing, dulcimer-ish tones, which reign the guitar in and allow the song to take shape just in time for the drums to kick in and explode the song in a flurry of noise. Horns clamor about, taking on an exotic tone that sounds appropriately like a snake charmer’s melody, as it now becomes the bass’ turn to meander, slithering beneath the guitar shards and thrashing percussion.
If there is one sound that always grabs me on Goodbye Enemy Airship…, it would be Ohad Benchetrit’s bass. Being a former abuser of the ol’ 4-string myself, I’m always amazed at the way his basslines shape and mold the songs on the album in oh-so subtle ways.
On “Minmin,” he sends long, loping notes circling around the slowly developing groove, enveloping the song rather than propelling it like a bassist “should.” In the song’s second half, the bass suddenly enters into the song’s center and drives it forward as analog synths swirl and bubble and delicately-picked guitars dance about. By the time the song has entered the final stretch, Benchetrit echoes the bassline’s original form and sends it soaring above the song with renewed intensity. The first time you hear his bass attack the old line with new vigor can be quite arresting.
You can also hear his subtly effective playing on “The Apartment Song.” Again, his bass sends out notes that seem to stretch on forever, adding a certain poignancy to the jagged, blues-y guitar while also pushing it aside to allow a gentle organ and sparse piano to slowly filter in. This makes for a lovely display of the group’s ability to layer their instruments.
Indeed, in the album’s final stretch, it becomes obvious that this skill is what truly sets the band apart. No one instrument dominates. Each instrument is given plenty of space in which to move and mature, but not at the expense of any of the others. While “All Of This Is True” and “Bruce E Kinesis” are both arresting tracks in their own right (especially the latter with its haunting, ghost-like church organ), it’s the album’s final track that really displays the band’s talent in all of its glory.
It’s nothing new for an instrumental post-rock band to end their album with a long epic, but few do it with as much skill and with as little cliché as Do Make Say Think. I think “Goodbye Enemy Airship” was the first Do Make Say Think track that enthralled me, and it still does to this day. David Mitchell and James Payment’s drumming creates a groove so tight and locked down that not even the jaws of life could pry it apart. While sounding fairly simple on the surface, a closer listen reveals all manner of hypnotic cymbal filigrees and fills (even the flubbed ones).
The song’s second half is one of the most beautiful pieces the band has ever recorded. The drums, which before sounded so precise, take on a rushing, head-over-heels tack, as if barely able to contain themselves. And who could blame them, as an elaborate and angelic lattice of plucked strings, shimmering guitars, and drizzling analog synths begins to form and spiral around them.
The amount of detail the band achieves in this song (and, by extension, the entire album) is nothing short of amazing. You can step back and just allow it to wash over you, or you can analyze it down to even the most minute of details — even the mistakes the band so graciously leaves in — without reducing the splendor of it all in any way. Altogether, an utterly compelling release and one that further establishes and cements the band’s reputation with each listen. And it also happens to be my favorite Do Make Say Think album… for now.