Conifer: Self-titled

Timber ho!

Conifer stand tall on their debut release

The first song, “Troy Landmammal,” checks in at 23:35. When Conifer’s Zack Howard drops their brand-new self-titled disc off at the office [in the fall of 2004] he reminds me not to skip past it. It’s half the disc.

There is a point, about 10:30 in, where I’m tempted.

The song and album open with a surprisingly inviting series of beeps and boops, like tuning an FM dial where every station broadcasts just one continuous frequency. The band have somehow conveyed a remarkable warmth to these slippery noises with the way they’re being generated, an almost imperceptible backing track of single notes contributing. Conifer [that link is to a still-active Angelfire page with some cool stuff on it] have always seemed to struggle a bit in searching for the correct portion of digitalization and sampling they wanted to mix into their sound. On their recent 18-date national tour, they didn’t even bring the laptop. On the album, this introduction is the only time when you’ll especially notice their computerized roots.

It goes on for about four minutes, before guitar chords come in, every so slightly. Strum, strum, strum, strum — they enter like your standard shoegazer and build perceptibly till the drums arrive at around six minutes. The shoegazing finishes up, and the tune moves toward a more jammy drum sound and approach, meditative, with art-rock and metal elements from the guitars and bass.

It gets heavier and heavier, until you’re surprised by some primal screaming that dominates at the 10:30 mark — each scream in time with crashing cymbals and distorted guitar hits. It’s more than a bit disquieting, like an orc beating a large animal over the head repeatedly with a club, just to see what happens. It’s really difficult to listen to unless you’re in the right mood (not sure what that mood is, exactly). As I wrote before, I always consider fast-forwarding at this point (someday I’ll write a whole column on how CD technology and its skip-to-the-next-song method of listening to music has contributed more to the age of the single than most people claim the mp3 has).

But, of course, I don’t, and after two minutes or so, the song reverts into a repeating series of tripled chunks before quieting down and getting contemplative again, brooding rat-a-tat-tats in the background.

It’s quite melodic around the 15-minute mark, actually, a hand sliding up and down the fretboard picking at notes. Then it moves toward something more hard-charging and frenetic, a guitar soloing in distorted feedback fashion over an undercurrent of marching chords.

The listener is then made privy to what sounds like a totally different song by the 20-minute point, reminiscent of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town” (that’s really the title, I checked) if that song didn’t suck. Well, that might be overstating Conifer’s catchiness here. But it hints at catchy. I could imagine they were thinking about doing something catchy.

Then “Troy” finishes out with a deliberative repetition that would be another band’s transition or bridge but here lasts for about two minutes.

No, there aren’t any lyrics. It strikes me that Becca DeWan might be able to do more with this in a “Classical” column than I can here. Conifer have developed an approach that borrows just as heavily from Rachmaninoff as Slint as Morbid Angel, and though others have made a similar combination, Conifer seem to indulge themselves in it, live in it, as much as I’ve ever heard. They take the methodical, ultra-tight approach of Cerberus Shoal and lay over it a dark and aggressive foreboding. They take the aggressive foreboding of Vertigod and stretch it out like taffy. They take the taffy of Mark Kleinhaut and Brad Terry and make it ice-cold and rigid.

In some ways, this makes them the most narrative of bands, as their music conjures scenarios.

I absolutely love the opening to “Widomaker,” a difficult, slow pacing just rippling with dirty energy, thanks mostly to the bass. I imagine some badass walking slowly across a room filled with utterly reprehensible types, not even noticing their existence. He’s got swagger dripping from the greasy ends of his hair.

But there’s this guitar that doesn’t really seem to want to play ball, an annoyance, or maybe a girl he can’t take his eyes off of. Then everything stops at 2:40 — their eyes lock — silence — then the initial pangs of conversation as a rattle of cymbal echoes fluttering eyelashes. But then he keeps walking, now a bit discordant.

The final song on the album, “Albuquerque Reprise,” calls to mind a disconcerting image of domestic violence. It starts with simple heavy chords standing alone, then is joined by a snarling and slurred guitar, like a drunken dad coming home to an abusive household that had been fearing his return. The song starts to thrash around a bit, with some pretty tortured and screamed vocals, believable in their desperation. It gives me the creeps.

Yes, with their NotCommon debut full-length, Conifer have created a moody and introspective effort that has more soul than Adamo, a similar effort that Conifer’s Nate Nadeau and Sean Hadley spent a year developing in 2001. They’ve taken that math-rock sensibility and infused it with hardcore’s passion.

Don’t skip past them.

The Steve Grover Quartet, featuring Brad Terry: Remember

How could we forget?

Grover and Terry remain timeless

grover-rememerIf you ever have the pleasure to meet Brad Terry [*This originally published in October of 2000], you’ll probably find him extolling the merits of the two Polish jazz prodigies he has living with him, or railing against cigarette ads in Time magazine. Either way, he’ll wind up laughing and poking you in the side until you crack up, too. It’s this infectious thrill for life that Steve Grover so expertly captures in the nine songs he has composed for Remember.

With his sunny outlook, and years of wisdom, Terry’s clarinet is not the flashy, rapid-fire display of a Benny Goodman. Rather it is a supple, pure tone, with smooth runs up and down the scale like water falling over steps. The beautiful interplay between Terry’s clarinet and Grover-veteran Frank Carlberg’s piano on “The Seventh String,” alternately in sync then moving to a sort of call and response, is exquisite and an inspired use of the instruments. Throughout the disc, these musicians exude a warmth for and understanding of each other that controls the mood of the music. From the opening waltz, “Beginning Again,” where Terry’s languid breaks recall strolling through crowded Manhattan streets on a bright fall afternoon, to the drum breaks on “Blues for the Bridge” that bring to mind Grover’s optimistic version of the military drum roll, the theme is a constant exuberance meted with the wisdom of past struggles. Ironically, the most melancholy of the pieces, “Theresa Minor,” features a bass solo by the young Chris Van Voorst Van Beest, whose improvisation is hungry and searching in contrast to Grover’s sophisticated confidence.

With Remember, Steve Grover has crafted a very personal and very enjoyable album.