By all rights, Familiar should be the sound of Excepter falling apart, or at least picking up the pieces. In 2011 they lost member Clare Amory to cancer, and her partner, band member Nathan Corbin, decided he couldn’t continue in the group without her. Founder John Fell Ryan and his wife and bandmate Lala Harrison Ryan moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, then returned. It’s been four years since Excepter’s last full-length, Presidence, so it’s reasonable to expect Familiar to reflect this disarray, especially since their open-ended jams have always sounded on the verge of collapse.
But Familiar turns out to be one of the most focused efforts in this idiosyncratic band’s 12-year history. Some tracks are practically pop songs compared to Excepter’s standard wandering sound, and even the more abstract pieces have distinct shape and purpose. Part of this is due to a plan conceived long before Amory passed away: to make songs with “familiar” instruments and melodies, some even nodding to nursery rhymes. The group had only a week to record during a 2012 European tour, so efficiency was at a premium; what makes Familiar impressive isn’t those goals (Excepter has veered toward conventional structure before), but that the results feel natural. There’s no sense of the band squeezing awkwardly into new costumes. Everything fits well; each sonic element is right where it belongs.
This unforced unity is clearest when comparing more melodic tracks to looser siblings. Opener “Maids”, with Lala’s ethereal chants riding a wave of cresting beat, is their catchiest song since the ear-worming “‘Rock’ Stepper” (from 2006’s Alternation, the only Excepter album that matches Familiar in sharpness). Yet “Same Address, Different City”, which sees John drooling like Mark E. Smith over meandering electronic squiggles, manages to scale as high as “Maids”. Similar parallels emerge when you put new-wave-ish “Palace to Palace” next to mantra-like “Grinning in Your Face”: one relies on hook and the other on repetition, yet both build momentum without wasting a single breath.
The most thrilling example of Familiar’s laser focus comes on a seven-minute mini-masterpiece called “Destroy”. It’s Corbin’s only contribution to the album, a piece he recorded with Amory when she was ill, in hopes of destroying her sickness with sound. Even though it was created separately from the rest of Familiar, it fully encapsulates the record’s strengths. Spraying whirring noise and morse-like transmissions over a pile-driving beat, “Destroy” is deceptively chaotic: jump to any point and it’s like waking up in a hailstorm, but chart it from start to finish and a near-classical sense of order emerges, with each element replacing its predecessor logically and mesmerizingly.
As if to emphasize the structured-ness of Familiar, Excepter closes the album with a cover of Tim Buckley’s 1970 ballad “Song to the Siren”. It’s the spot where the group most risks sounding like someone else, but rippling keyboard and Ryan’s long moans wash the tune in Excepter vibes. Still, it’s a daring move, and makes it tempting to paint this album as a complete rebirth for a band who deserves one. But their journey hasn’t exactly been linear, and they’re just as likely to throw a curveball next time as they are to continue down Familiar’s excellent, distinctive path.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/10ND6AO