By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Whisper it from the rooftops: Quiet is the new loud. Glimmer, the new glower. Shamble, the new skronk. Cascade, the new splash. Warmth, the new cool. As if to help us cope with the blare of history revving its shiny new
engines, a formidable bunch of recent records makes the case for actively contemplative space. And I'm not talking about Enya or your bathtub.
It's a no-brainer of a mix: Grandaddy, Sigur Rós, American Analog Set, Death Cab for Cutie, Low, Beachwood Sparks, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. All intricately collaborative yet respectful of solitude, conjuring the repose of deep place-love and symbolic landscape (e.g., the Coney Island or Carolina of the mind). This is smart, wounded, grand music made by people who--while they certainly don't mind having you around--ultimately seem to play for their own sanity and survival. These are people who will play music whether you care or not, whether you're there or not. Whether there's a bustle in their hedgerow, or all the record labels supercollide.
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci (with a hard c) is a name that has almost certainly come between the Welsh band and pop-world penetration. It's not as druidic as it sounds. Translating as "Gorky's Embryonic Monkey" in the traditional tongue, it's like the "Breeders"--just a joke on making art in an age of clinical reproduction. A silly, sci-fi expression of the fatefully sad human condition. Like Grandaddy's "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot," it's an example of having a little fun with soul-crushing impotence.
GZM have been playing together since the late Eighties, but they didn't release a record in the U.S. until 1996's Introducing Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, a collection culled from singles and EPs previously released on the Welsh label Ankst. At the time, the band was hailed as part of a Welsh invasion, storming our shores with the likes of Catatonia and Super Furry Animals. In reality, they were never part of a local scene: Cofounder Euros Childs recently admitted on Designer Magazine's Web site that he's always felt more affinity with atmospherists like Low than with ironic indie hipsters or alt-rock-radio ready-mades.
As with Fairport Convention or Fleetwood Mac, GZM's style has morphed over the years as band members have come into their own as songwriters. Back in the mid-Nineties, they were Beefhearted and chaotic. They also sang almost exclusively in Welsh, which is spoken in their homeland by less than 20 percent of the population. Choosing a lilting archaic encryption in an age of expediency represented a sweetly political act. Of course, their protection of the Welsh tongue also fueled a certain mystique about the band. And for the uninitiated--as with the ice-cap croons of Sigur Rós--their twisted phonemes had meaning all on their own.
After 1999's peppy Spanish Dance Troupe, containing the Bryan Ferry-as-Blur single "Poodle Rockin," band founder and lead guitarist John Lawrence left Gorky's. Led by the pop pastoral vision of guitarist Childs, whose sugar-mountain voice and Christine McVie melodicism now prevail, GZM have moved further into the realm of the deceptively simple. 2000's acoustic treat The Blue Trees is a pleasing set of piano and guitar ballads recorded with deliberative spareness. But last year's How I Long to Feel That Summer in My Heart (Mantra) makes full use of their studio's 48 tracks to create lovingly intricate translations of alone time.
As with other bands of GZM's ilk, this landscape music manifests itself not as IMAX movie or flight-simulation game, but as a oneness with all things vast. They imagine feeling the way the wind feels brushing against the land. Or being infinitesimally small, like a piece of sanded beach glass. Or smooth like a cliff facing a constant wave. Being water, sky, silica, taconite, ice. The sound of condensation building, the rhythm of ice slowly splitting rock.
Playing 25 different instruments among them, the six main band members can suggest the vista of Welsh cliffs, the bliss of long-delayed summer, and the sadness of industrial valleys--sound portraits as vivid as Grandaddy's Southwestern sweep or Low's frozen lake. As the second-most-prominent songwriter, acoustic guitarist Richard James has a breathy, Elliott Smith beckon that provides a nice respite from Childs's more intense angel's plea. Euros Childs's sister Megan Childs has a Mo Tucker tremble that fits her gamboling album contribution "Cân Megan" perfectly.
With lyrics as basic as the weather, instrumentation carries the day. Melodies move through swells, showers, and spring mornings like passing neighbors. You see them from where you sit, and you project your own stories onto them, smiling to yourself.