Gregor Samsa - Rest
Post-Rock, Ambient
9 songs (47:57)
Release year: 2008
Reviewed by James
Album of the month

While normally I couldn't possibly justify reviewing a band as soft, pretty and generally lovely as Gregor Samsa on the fine institution that is Metal Reviews, it just so happens that this particular band contain both Toby Driver and Mia Matsumiya of the avant-metal powerhouse that is Kayo Dot. Admittedly, they don't contribute that much musically, handling clarinet and violin respectively, but anyone who's listened to Kayo Dot will recognize their trademark style immediately. Despite everything that Mr Driver contributes to generally being nothing less than stunning, this particular project seemed to be met with cold indifference by most. Regardless, I decided to track their newest release, Rest, down. And as soon as the melancholy piano line of The Adolescent kicked in, I was utterly floored. Of course, more often than not albums that grab you immediately are the ones who lose their charm their quickest, often leading to the journalistic equivalent of drunkenly getting off with someone at a party (see my A Silver Mt Zion review for an example of what I'm talking about). So, could Rest stand the test of time?

But before we reach that verdict, it might be worth describing the music of Gregor Samsa to the uninitiated. Although they're generally touted as a post-rock group, there are no head-caving crescendos to be found here, as you'd find with say, Mono. It's far more intimate fare, built around sparse, near-ambient piano and the nagging, insistent vocals of married couple Champ Bennett and Nikki King. I suppose the closest I can get is ( )-era Sigur Ros, though without that particular band's taste for the epic. There's barely any traditional rock instrumentation to be found here, the music mostly being carried by orchestral instruments that bring the music closer to chamber music than anything else.

What really drew me to this album, and I'm sure will pique the interest of many other listeners, is the absolutely stunning vocals. They're performed in the same plaintive style as many of Toby Driver's endeavours (indeed, it would have been nice for him to have sang here), but the melodies are even stronger than anything that's ever come out of his mouth. The use of both male and female vocals is a nice dynamic, although Nikki King handles most vocal duties here. Appropriate as she's the star of the show here, and in possession of one of the most gorgeous voices I've heard recently. She really gets to shine on Jeroen Van Aken, with her whisper-thin delivery and mantra-like repetition having plenty of time to get under the skin of the listener. Jeroen Van Aken also happens to be the closest thing we get to a proper song here, having a proper chorus, pulsing bass, and even (gasp!) drums. As the longest track it's the centerpiece of the album, and also the finest track here, which in an album of this quality is really saying something.

I can't recommend Rest to absolutely everyone- it's far too static and glacial for that. But for anyone who didn't think that Kayo Dot's venture into jazzy chamber music with Blue Lambency Downward was a step too far would be well adivsed to give this a listen. This is the furthest away from metal Driver's ever been, and it's even better than Blue Lambency Downward was. Which, as a big Kayo Dot fan, is really saying something. I wish Gregor Samsa the best of luck in all their future endavours, and hope that in time they too can make a masterpiece on par with Choirs Of The Eye.

Killing Songs :
All, but Jeroen Van Aken absolutely dominates the album.
James quoted 91 / 100
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