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Grails is evocative, sinuous and unpredictable. So, it stands to reason that nearly everything written about the instrumental band’s music expounds on how much it reminds listeners of particular experiences, sights, moods or dreams. People react emotionally to the Portland, Oregon, quintet’s powerfully evocative songs because they compel us to fill the gap between music and language. To quote one 20th Century sage, "instrumental music is Total Music": there’s no voice to quaintly tell us how we should feel, only the emotive musical force moving us to understand and empathize.




Grails began in the late nineties as a bedroom recording project of guitarist Alex Hall. He had done his tour of duty in the local underground punk scene and decided the world had enough bands. So, he kept his music to himself. But drummer and housemate Emil Amos (also of Holy Sons) encouraged Hall to assemble a band and perform some of the mini-symphonies in public. A small collective of talented local musicians - violinist Timothy Horner, a Jackie-O Motherfucker alumni; classically trained pianist/bassist William Slater; and second guitarist Zak Riles, also of Harbor - was assembled under the moniker Laurel Canyon (before the film of the same name was released) to play a couple of one-off shows. The reaction to the performances was so strong that a band was born despite itself.




Laurel Canyon recorded and self-released two EPs in 2000 and 2001 on Pamlico Sounds, played just a couple of shows and soon had stoic Swans/Angels of Light auteur Michael Gira asking them to open for his band. On a whim, Hall sent an unsolicited CD to Neurot Recordings and shortly thereafter was quite surprised to hear from Neurosis guitarist/vocalist and label co-owner Steve Von Till offering to sign the band. The label predicated upon releasing music primarily by artists within its tight-knit family of like-minded iconoclasts (not just any band sending a demo) was so moved by the music, Von Till invited the inchoate band to join the roster.

Everything fell into place quickly, as if the music was guiding itself. 'The Burden of Hope' was released under the group’s new name, Grails in 2003. It was followed by their second album 'Red Light', in 2004. Recently, the band recorded 3 cover songs, compiled on 'Interpretation', their last EP, which came out in October 2005.



-) 2003 : 'The Burden Of Hope' on Neurot Recordings.

Fake Jazz's point of view :

On first glance, you'd assume Grails had an incurable Godspeed You Black Emperor obsession. The use of strings to accent the guitar part and the impassioned crescendos are well-worn tricks of Godspeed. But it quickly becomes clear that there are subtler things at work in Grails' music. I can't put my finger on any specific band (other than Sun City Girls, but only because they cover one of their songs), but there is a definite theme throughout this record of experimentation, which manifests itself in exciting songs with elliptical structures and instruments being pushed to the point of abuse. What makes that such a successful distinction from all the other bands that have tried going down Godspeed's route is that Grails' experimentation doesn't distract them from making their songs have punch, and decent enough melodies to carry the crescendos.

The aforementioned cover of the Sun City Girls is "Space Prophet Dogon," which comes in halfway through the record, effectively breaking it up into two halves. The way they interpret it, it doesn't sound out of place at all, but it does have a distinctly different mood (uplift, versus catastrophe). The guitar playing underlies all of the songs. Rarely resorting to the usual barre chords or furiously strummed lines, the guitar pulses and flows. There are plenty of small guitar parts that illustrate it, but the first song, "Burden of Hope" is the first indication that the guitar playing will have something more to it.

Burden of Hope introduces an exciting band who will surely prove to be one worth watching. I eagerly anticipate where they'll take themselves next.

Sean Hammond - website.



-) 2004 : 'Red Light' on Neurot Recordings.

Dusted's point of view :

[...] We’re back in the dreamworld again on Red Light, and the hypnotic effect of Grails' songs remains powerful. They explore different feels here than on their debut, most notably a broadened range of rhythmic materials (as on insistent, relatively uptempo tracks like “High & Low” or “Fevers”). The music still impresses with its elegance (the gorgeous closer “Word Made Flesh”), its fluidity, and its restraint (all these competent players, and no silly showboating). Instead of pyrotechnics, Grails favor drama, tension and release. They are, after all, storytellers - interpreters - evoking familiar idiomatic materials and instrumental voices only to toy with them or submerge them in the overall wash of sound. As quickly as Horner and the guitarists might establish thematic material, Amos pulls away by suspending the pulse. Or, when roles are reversed and the rhythm grows insistent, Horner in particular impulsively stirs up a fine mess of trouble. This combination of familiarity and unpredictability is warm and winning.

Yes, people will continue to compare them to Dirty Three, Godspeed, Mogwai and others. But I still hear a band of ragtag improvisers, engaged in a heavy channeling of Americana that fuses Henry Flynt or Tony Conrad with the smoldering remains of Black Sabbath (and indeed, Grails have submitted a track for an upcoming Sabbath tribute on Temporary Residence). Who can’t dig that?

Jason Bivins - website.



-) 2005 : 'Interpretations' on Latitudes.

Boomkat's point of view :

The latest edition to the exquisitely packaged and ridiculously limited Latitudes series sees Grails (aka Alex Hall, Emil Amos, Timothy Horner, William Slater and Zak Riles) covering three of their favourite artists; The Byrds, Gong and Flower Travelling Band. With a sound that would be best described as F*CKING HUGE, Grails layer surging waves of post-rock frayed instrumentation (piano, guitar, bass, violin, and various percussive elements) on top of an existing bedrock of fiery intent to fashion a spectacular and breathtaking trilogy of reinterpretations. From the bellicose attitude of 'Satori', through to the wafer thin good will of 'Space Odyssey', this is an astonishing feat that extends well beyond the normal remit of a 'cover version'. Get.





A few tracks are to be downloaded here.



-) Official site.
-) Myspace.
-) Neurot Recordings.
-) Latitudes.