If you ever have the misfortune to take a course in creative writing (which probably oh, 60% of us have?), one of the first things you’ll be told (after the plea to ditch adverbs, and what the hell, adjectives as well) is about the difference between show and tell. A bad writer would be manipulative, didactic and doctrinal – telling you how to feel about a given situation or character; a good writer, whilst remaining the master of manipulation, would admit ambivalence and a semblance of drift, the emotional patterns being allowed to slowly reveal themselves through situation and dialogue. I’ve always felt that, done badly, that second strain of post-rock – i.e. not the Disco Inferno, Seefeel breed, but the one that dredges itself up out of the backwater swamps of Slint and Sonic Youth – is all about tell: great sweeping monuments to grief and torment that seek to soar but invariably end up grounded and impotent, stifled by their own urge towards the epic and the unattainable. It wants to be planetary and eschatological, but it ends up being an empty vessel, or like a child making a tower of toy bricks to see if it can reach the moon. Even Godspeed, who with their fractured soundworlds and perfectly paced (and placed) climaxes nailed this genre into a coffin before it had really had a chance to breathe, showed how difficult it was with the plodding Yanqui U.X.O. The truth is, you’ve got to be bloody good at this stuff to be anything more than a footnote to GY!BE.
Which is a hell of a pre-amble when introducing a review, I know, but there we are. Her Name Is Calla are a band out of Yorkshire making the BIG music. The Quiet Lamb is strictly speaking their first full album, but they have a number of singles and EPs to their name, and last years’ The Heritage though ostensibly an EP was the best part of 50 minutes long… The Quiet Lamb has 12 tracks, and clocks in at over 80 minutes. The longest track, ‘Condor and River’ is a 17-minute beast. The artwork and packaging is similarly grand and striking. They’re clearly utterly involved in what they do. And to their credit, Her Name is Calla do what they do really very well: the tracks are built with a genuine sense of dynamics and care, and despite the presence of a horde of instrumentation there isn’t the usual recourse to overblown orchestration and bombast. Thanks to the album’s long gestation period, it feels as if the band (built around a core of Thom Corah, Sophie Green, Michael Love, Tom Morris and Adam Weikert) have honed these slabs of sound and have a real sense of narrative and purpose.
‘Condor and River’ is something of a signature track. It’s been around since 2007 but has been re-worked here. There’s no escaping its ambition, and it does walk a fine line between gravity and bombast with the sombre piano sections and central plateau of Explosions-like guitars; but it’s the second half of the track that really elevates it into something else. Here Tom Morris’ strong voice comes to the fore over swells of strings and brass. This isn’t overwrought post-rock but folk music placed under new pressure, fit to burst. ‘Long Grass’ is similarly vocal led, and another simple piece of folk music, this time inflected with an Eastern European feel. The band have an element of the early days of slowcore about them at times, too – especially on a track like ‘A Blood Promise’ which has elements of Codeine about it.
I wouldn’t want to overstate the case but it strikes me that Her Name is Calla are probably more interested in Vaughan Williams and Blake than Mono or This Will Destroy You, though the former is coloured by the trappings of the later. An English post-rock band of this ilk is actually a fairly rare thing and though I think this is ultimately too much to digest and too damn long (by the end of ‘The Union’ – a three part 20-minute epic at the end of an 80-minute record is asking a lot of any listener – I was cowering and ready for something, anything else) I reckon they might be on to something. Good luck to them.