Ativin – German Water

4 out of 5

Label: Secretly Canadian

Produced by: Andy Bryant

In the annals of instrumental rock, I feel like Ativin’s place often gets overlooked.  They don’t have the notoriety of a Where Are They Now? release; there were no breakout stars that can be traced to a million other of your favorite bands; they perhaps lack that immediately identifiable element that helped define Don Cab or Tortoise as namedrop mainstays.  Except they sort of do have all of those things: Ativin seemed to bubble and then disappear, as they morphed into Early Day Miners; the group’s Dan Burton can certainly be traced to a small handful of like-minded bands he’s assisted or produced; Ativin’s element was its middleground: straddling the explosiveness of louder instrumental acts and the intricate grooves of the Chicago scene – though this would admittedly later shift to minimalism as the group became the Miners.  But listening to German Water, you can have a brief moment of wondering why Ativin weren’t on the tips of the tongues of all your tastemakers who gifted you with cool recommendations to stuff your iPod for showing off.  The effect is subtle, sure: opener Thirteen Ovens has a Dianogah low-end bounce, coming across as misleadingly casual, which distracts from its drumming and thematic complexity.  Fortune Teller Fish awakes with its breaks of sudden riffage, leading into the excellent slow-burn of the 6+ minute Stations.  This is where you start to pay attention, held rapt up through Modern Gang Reader – which had a worthwhile B-side on the single – which is rather stunningly layered, and again, going back to that indefinable / identifiable element dichotomy, what’s so impressive about it is that it’s hard to pin down.  Closer Meeting With the Center of the Earth is the only letdown, after it builds to a drifting ambient middle section.  At a quarter of the disc’s runtime, its an unfortunate amount of listening time taken up, and might account for why I forget to spin this disc up more often.  But when I do, I always re-experience that shock at how amazing the group was when they were on, which was more often than not.