Album Review: PELICAN Nighttime Stories
The title of Pelican's newest effort Nighttime Stories tricks the mind into expecting something soft and ethereal; something akin to a bedtime story told in dulcet melodies with a defined beginning, middle, and end. What post-metal darlings Pelican instead deliver is the kind of music that pries eyes open in anxious anticipation. Nighttime Stories strikes a relentless chord of discomfort that ushers the listener into a place of deep, dark introspection that only an album this moody can accomplish.
The evolution of appreciating Nighttime Stories takes place in 3 distinct phases. First, eschewing the assumption of sweet, dreamy songs based on the album name, Pelican created a meticulous and meandering record littered with intention. Atmospheric and palpable angst permeates each track and rarely relaxes its grip. With the exception of the last track "Full Moon, Black Water," each song carries foreboding air and doesn't readily match the expectation of the track's title. Sweeping minor key probes and grimy, complex breakdowns make the album feel unsolved and exploratory.
Second, the album evolves the instrumental quartet's sound into a doom-inspired post-metal. The 8-track crescendo pushes ever-deeper into heaviness and despair. The over-all atmosphere sings as bleak, yet each track mounts with energy and by mid-album, Nighttime Stories avoids the apathy and monotony of melancholy. "Cold Hope" kicks off the darker mood change with super-fuzzed out riffs that alone carry the dissonance of doom. Coupled with bass that punches the eardrums, riffs repeat with subtle changes that give song momentum and interest.
Pelican have seen a fair amount of change in the 6 years since their most recent full-length release Forever Becoming. 2019's Nighttime Stories is the second Pelican album to feature Dallas Thomas on guitar, and it is Thomas's personal loss that inspired the first track "W.S.T." A tribute to his father, "W.S.T." marks the beginning of an entire tribute album – which leads to the third way in which to appreciate Nighttime Stories. According to their press release, "Nighttime Stories was an album title initially proposed for Tusk, the hallucinatory art-grind band that included Pelican members Trevor Shelley de Brauw, Larry Herweg, and Schroeder-Lebec, in addition to vocalist Jody Minnoch." Minnoch unexpectedly passed away in 2014, and in reverence to their friend and colleague, Pelican "pulled many of the song titles from notes Minnoch" to inspire the writing behind Nighttime Stories.
Nighttime Stories succeeds in evoking a response from the listener as all good art should do. However, the album isn't enjoyable as much as it is interesting. Tracks like "Arteries of Blacktop" are likely immensely powerful live, as would be the rest of the album fueled by the emotions which brought the album to life. Barging through 2019, Pelican maintains their instrumental style in an era and a genre driven by powerhouse lead vocalists. Even though the album is interesting, it will be tough to come back to the album time and time again simply because I don't enjoy feeling as anxious as the album is able to make me feel.
While that sounds like a great accomplishment, this isn't an album a ‘casual listen’. While there are many ways in which the album cannot technically be faulted (for example the flow of track order) Nighttime Stories lacks reliability. This deeply personal album feels more like a catharsis for the ones who've written it. Nighttime Stories works as a stand-alone piece of art; it is interesting and complex but it wasn’t written for the listener as much as it is for Pelican themselves. Even though the score is lower, check out the album if you're a fan of thoughtful, technical post-metal. Pelican does not lack talent and for those who've been following the band throughout their nineteen-year career will appreciate this personal expression.