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Envy – Recitation
06 October 2010, 12:00 Written by

Anyone who witnessed their genuinely astonishing, quite possibly loudest-band-in-the-universe performance at ATP in 2008 will probably, like me, think they know what they are getting when faced with a new release from Envy. Back then, the Japanese band delivered a set of such fierce, unrelenting, flat-out impressive hardcore noise that it provided one of the festival’s most memorable closing sets, probably ever (discuss…).

Fast-forward a couple of years, then, and it comes as something of a surprise on listening to the opening few moments of this, their sixth full-length album, to be faced with a gorgeous, rich but yes – gentle introduction. In truth, of course, Envy have long been this kind of proposition. Previous albums like Insomniac Doze also played with lightness and shade, producing such an assured mix of raw noise and post-rock dynamic waves as is seldom elsewhere found.

Openeing track ‘Guidance’, and ‘Last Hours of Eternity’ which follows it (and almost serves as its extension or companion piece for a large part of its duration) are replete with acoustic guitars, repeated, shimmering patterns, yearning melody lines that alternately soothe and beseech the listener. As with each track on this album (and presumably the reason for its title) a voice softly narrates / recites in Japanese. On ‘Guidance’, as on the closing track ‘Your Hand’ the narrator is female, her voice hushed, just-above-a-whisper and drowsy, lulling.

When Tetsuya Fukagawa’s vocal does rear its head, as it does half way through ‘Last Hours of Eternity’, it does so with a visceral roar that would wake the dead. One of the strange and wonderful things about this band, though, is how they achieve this contrast without it ever, at the time, seeming too jarring or dissonant. The hardcore, guttural screaming somehow fits with the music in which it is wrapped just as well as the gentle spoken-word bits, much as the beautiful, soft yearing musical moments combine with the louder faster parts. This is best illustrated by ‘Pieces of the Moon I Weaved’, where the interplay between the different dynamics, vocals and styles is demonstrated by multiple switches back-and-forth.

Several times a melody will shine through, and each time it is like a little joy-bomb to the heart. This is a band expert at evoking and manipulating their listeners’ emotions, as ‘Last Hours of Eternity’, Incomplete’ and ‘A Hint and the Incapacity’ all attest. Curiously, (and undoubtably accidentally), a repeated bit of tune used in both ‘Rainclouds Running in a Holy Night’ and ‘Light and Solitude’ is exactly the same as the “Born is the King of Israel” line in ‘The First Noel’.

Outstanding tracks include ‘Last Hours of Eternity’, ‘Dreams Coming to an End’ – a harder, sharper, more taut offering than most, almost post-punk in its internal tensions and stop-start rhythms; and the uplifting, energising ‘A Breath Clad in Happiness’ – multi-layered, visceral, infused with light, shade and near-infinite depths.

‘Worn Heels and the Hands We Hold’ suffers slightly from its order in the tracklisting, placed as it is at just that point in the album when the “gentle bit / violent bit” device ceases to surprise and starts to seem commonplace. ‘Light and Solitude’ is the only other less than successful track, feeling as it does a little underdeveloped. A charge, ironically, that can’t be levelled at ‘Incomplete’ – a short track simply featuring a sole acoustic guitar, it nevertheless has an emotional heft and – again – a beauty in the melody, that completely earns it its place on this gem of an album.

Despite being signed in Europe to Mogwai’s Rock Action label, this is not a band that can be simply filed away under Post-Rock, nor indeed Hardcore. The beauty that they manage to weave from their tunes, the atmosphere that they create and the impressive, sometimes shocking, always apt dynamics that they deploy all add up to a band that is both difficult to categorise and – frankly – all the more worth treasuring because of it.


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