3 out of 5
Label: Temporary Residence
Produced by: Grails
I guess we’ll file this under “I don’t get it.” And look – I got into this thing for the post-rock, and Grails stopped doing that a while ago, so it’s no wonder Chalice Hymnal – their relatively long-gestating 2017 album – maybe doesn’t grab me. But the additional puzzlement I experience upon listening to this is trying to suss out its structure: the moody, cinematic music the group affects is undeniably pleasing, but it’s also often rather fleeting, with songs checking out before they have time to do much with all of the little bits and pieces of jazz and prog the track collect. It is, I suppose, unique in that sense: the glittery nature of the compositions reminds of a less plugged-in Red Sparowes, while the psychedelia recalls classics like Pink Floyd; there’s, like, an adult contemporary bop underneath a lot of the songs that’s suggestive of 2000s-era Thrill Jockey kinda stuff; and then there’s Grails’ members’ appreciation for Eastern instrumentation, which further dots songs with a sense of scope beyond the loose, post-rock grounding of the affair. But Chalice Hymnal simply isn’t enough of any of these things for too long to leave a lasting impact, at least to me. Now, where tracks are given room to shine – or where the group pushes themselves beyond a default “coasting” setting – the bookend tracks; or something like Deep Snow II, where guitars get plugged in and soloed on – the songs rise above the midrange, and definitely call for more attention; another listen. I can certainly believe that more listens than I afforded the album would help to flesh out the album, but even on a few passes, those shorter, less remarkable songs just reminded me of other groups who took the pieces Grails are working with and ran with them.
It’s an assured listen, undeniably. I’d described it above as cinematic, and that holds true, but more in the sense that it needs accompaniment; something else to hang its ideas on to strengthen the whole experience.