“It is no easy album to parse, to sum up with a quick line and a full stop. The stories in the album, and around it, resist that on all sides.” – Ian Maleney on Pelt‘s Effigy.
It seems to me that Effigy is a record defined, at least in part, by absence. The opening tack makes titular reference to Jack Rose (legendary guitarist and former Pelt member who died in 2009) and Rose’s presence, or his lack of it, filters through the album continually. Effigy is the first Pelt album made since Rose’s untimely death and ‘Of Jack’s Darbari‘ sees the remaining members making a complex, micro-tonal drone based on a suggested scale found on a note written by Rose towards the end of his life. It is the busiest and most inscrutable track on this 2xLP, never really opening up or reaching any conclusion; fingers slide millimetres along fiddle necks, from note-to-half-note, in a waspish buzzing of intense density before picked-out piano notes begin to appear in the upper register. It is unwelcoming and tough and a terrifically obtuse way to start what is an immense journey into sound.
‘Wings Of Dirt‘ follows that with a much more upbeat tune, replete with bounteous melody and an energised rhythm. It eventually breaks down into slower, more drawn out notes and unpredictable percussive hits but the peak of the track, just before it disengages, when every instrument is in full flow, is the first sign on the album of real, physical power from the group.
‘Spikes & Ties‘ and ‘Last Toast Before Capsizing‘ move once again into abstract territory, with the former’s minimal and metallic drone giving way to the latter’s crashing, maximal percussion. The metallic overtones create a wash of sound where individual hits are mostly subsumed into the overall picture, while a negative space remains underneath it all, occasionally resonating at some sympathetic tone. Again, it’s the piano that signals the beginning of the end as its dissonant runs fissure the cymbal structure and the whole thing falls apart. The end seems sudden compared to the nine minutes spent of building and crashing that preceded it, but then, the end of a road is not always clearly signposted.
In a recent feature for the Wire, members of Pelt talked about playing at Rose’s wake, where the act of burning a photograph of their friend had an intense emotional impact on them all. The side-long ‘Ashes Of A Photograph‘ then couldn’t but be influenced by the grief and loss of that time. Beginning with almost violent violin and jews harp, the long running time makes for an ever-more complex construction of a drone, spiralling around a tonal centre, gradually growing tighter and more harmonious before thinning out and fading towards the end. Much of Pelt’s singular aesthetic is contained within this one epic piece and their intuitive understanding of time and space, consonance and dissonance, is clear throughout.
‘From The Lakebed‘ uses resonant singing bowls to suitably submerged effect, creating a dank atmosphere of droning notes and soft, percussive strikes. They hold this underwater aura in place until, half way through, high-pitched bells begin to appear, like ripples of light on the water’s glassy surface, seen from below. Before the end, all we’re left with is those rattling bells and the sound of wind blowing, hollow and breathy.
The album closes out on another Rose-referencing track, ‘The Doctor’s Nightcap‘, a short anti-lullaby, singing nightmares in the dark. The violin bow scrapes against the strings in a haunted non-melody while the rumbling din of hand-played cymbals echoes out in the background. It shows that, just as there was no easy way in, there would be no clean and clear conclusions to be found. Effigy is a big and complex album and you can feel in it the hugeness of grief and perseverance, the need to come to terms and the impossibility of doing so. The will to go on. It is no easy album to parse, to sum up with a quick line and a full stop. The stories in the album, and around it, resist that on all sides. Never an easy listen, Effigy feels intensely personal and the audience is inevitably in the position of eavesdropper. What a conversation though.