STILL STUBBORN, STILL PERSISTENT: Do Make Say Think

Canadian post-rockers return after eight-year hiatus with memorable set of instrumentals.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

The title of the latest from Toronto-based post-rockers Do Make Say Think alludes to the Buddhist notion that all seemingly distinct thoughts and ideas are, in truth, connected to collective subconscious feelings. This may be the most open exploration of that conceit in the band’s 25-year tenure, but for fans it’s been Do Make Say Think’s defining trait—the connective tissue in their vastly diverse sonic explorations is what stocks their records with such emotional power.

Despite a gap of eight years between recordings, Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation) upholds the band’s aesthetic without seeming to miss a two-drum-kits beat.  These nine tracks, ranging from glitchy four-minute piano-based lullabies to epic 10-minute guitar workouts, read like an anthology (of sorts) of the band’s holistic approach to instrumental rock.

By and large, Do Make Say Think steer clear of the predictable Mogwai/Explosions in the Sky post-rock theorem—Melody + Tempo over Crescendo, divided by Volume. They’ve also avoided disappearing down the electronic rabbit hole that the genre’s flag-bearers, Tortoise, seem determined to do.

Instead, the band’s multi-instrumentalist core—Ohad Benchetrit (guitar, keyboard, horns), Charles Spearin (bass, guitar, keys, horns), Justin Small (guitar, keys), and drummers Dave Mitchell and James Payment—build their pieces organically, never letting effects hijack melody.

Take the LP’s signature statement, the 10-plus minute “Horripilation.” In the beginning, guitar figures lazily circle each other like summer insects before the bass pulls the tempo forward and the drums began an urgent thrum. The song pares back to reveal two keyboard lines taking the place of the guitars, this time accompanied by subtle strings and later by horn skronks, all of it gelling together with synth squiggles, distortion and lurches of feedback. By the seventh minute the song is in cymbals-crashing high gallop, where DMST then peel back the instrumentation until only the guitar melody remains. It’s a deft reversal, and one that rewards multiple listens.

But memorable moments like that abound. On the “Her Eyes on the Horizon,” the quintet channel the controlled abandon familiar from their parent company, Broken Social Scene, into the collective’s all-for-one, one-for-all crescendos that seem to extol “team concept.” (If this were the NBA, DMST would be the Warriors, not the Raptors—sorry, guys.) A companion piece, “As Far as the Eye Can See,” follows, snare-rolls and trap replacing toms-thunder as guitar glissandos roll in and out of focus until a new melody emerges and spirals off into the distance.

“Murder of Thoughts” taps into a more overtly Western patina, recalling Spearin’s earlier project, Valley of the Giants. Timpani and pedal steel conjure the vast expanses, and by song’s end they drift organically into the sound of a rusty weathercock turning squeakily in the high plains wind.

Another set of companion tunes also highlight DMST’s diverse sonic palette. Oscillating between layered synth burbles and arena-sized riffs, the five minutes of “Bound” terminate in a violent mood swing, courtesy of air raid warning-sized synth blasts which overlap into “And Boundless.” There, roiling drums and horror flick keyboards gradually morph into an unexpected—and beautiful— glissando-rich melody.

At a shade under four minutes, the piano-based “Shlomo’s Son” clocks in as the LP’s most reflective moment, before DMST close things out by doubling back to the multiple-guitar attack on “Return, Return Again.” It opens with one guitarist looping quick-fingered arpeggios while another layers over that an elegant melody. The drums lash those riffs with increasing fervor, until waves of keyboards and a fluttering baritone sax manage to turn what should be cacophony into transcendence. As walk-offs go, it’s a doozy.

Just about the only misstep here is, oddly, the opener, “War on Torpor.” Not only is the title a bit on-the-nose, but the song never really modulates its aggressive guitar attack over its five minute-run. By the end of the assault it sounds like something that would be more at home with prog kings Yes, circa Relayer, than the rest of the LP.

It’s not even close to a deal breaker, though, and arguably enhances by contrast the rest of the LP’s compelling nuance, textures and power. But then not every collective subconscious feeling has to be a good one—it’s just better when the balance of our stubborn and persistent illusions comes out this far ahead in the musical equation.

Consumer Note: The Constellation label has gone the extra mile, packaging- and design-wise, for vinyl collectors. In addition to a credits insert, there’s also a fold-out poster that replicates the outer art on the gatefold sleeve, and both 180gm LPs are housed in deluxe, sleek-lined inner sleeves to minimize any potential scuffs incurred when sliding the records out. And most intriguingly, side D does not contain music, but a series of small nature etchings ringing the surface. This may all seem nominal when judging the music, but it’s indicative of both the label and the band’s desire to present a work of art—something that’s simply not possible when dealing with a digital stream or download. (And digital fans, never fear: A download card is included.)

BAND PHOTO CREDIT: Sandlin Gaither

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Ed. note: DMST is performing tonight, June 10, in Toronto at the Danforth Music Hall. You’ll be able to watch the live stream via YouTube – click on the player below for details.

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