Aereogramme – A Story in White

A Story in White

For those of you not in the know, pay attention because you’ll want to get in on the ground floor. Aereogramme’s release A Story in White is, in many respects, a flawless debut; 13 rapturous songs that alternate seamlessly between heart-wrenching beauty and disquieting epileptic aggression. The music ranges from a clean acoustic whisper with a hypnotic electronic drone to acerbic, hits-you-like-a-fist post-hardcore. It is mature, dynamic, diverse-yet-convergent rock music played with accomplished skill and more passion and emotion than most bands could ever hope to achieve in a lifetime of work, much less in one single release. But what makes this particular clock tick is vocalist/guitarist Craig B and his glorious vocals. Like Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Bjork, and Chris Higdon (Elliott), Craig B has that voice, that infectious, soulful, tragedy, and triumph of a voice that manages to capture beauty, misery, and all points in between in a single breath. But what sets him apart from these other accomplished and affected vocalists is the simple fact that Craig B, despite his sentimental leanings and romantic yearnings, can get pissed off…REALLY pissed off. With an often brutal mixture of agonized torture and venomous disgust, he can bark and scream with the best of the disgruntled set. Quite honestly, with such a capable frontman and such volatile and compelling music, I have been expecting to hear a fierce buzz about the band to begin for quite a while now, but for whatever reason it seems that Aereogramme has so far managed to fly below the musical media’s radar. Attention and acclaim, however, are inevitable; the silence won’t last long.

Like all good bands with a proper understanding of the complexities and intricacies of dynamics, Aereogramme plays with the listeners’ expectations, unleashing a torrent of dissonance when you are expecting quiet stillness and speeding things up when you expect them to slow down; expect a scream and you get a whisper. “The Question is Complete,” which opens the album, starts off as a vicious, distortion-drenched rocker before sailing off into obtuse indie rock complete with an off key piano line that seems to lurk dangerously in the shadows, creating a tension that is both eerie and riveting. Then just when an enveloping sense of dread begins to sink in, they unleash a punishing panic-ridden riff that stands your hair on end. If that bit of cinematic majesty weren’t enough, in comes the monumental “Post-tour, Pre-Judgment.” From the dazzling melody of the verses to the thunderous echo of the chorus, to the apoplectic rage of the outro, this wonderfully captivating gem perfectly encapsulates Aereogramme’s rare ability to deliver the unpredictable with balance and an understated genius. The single, “Zionist Timing,” with its intimate, visceral lyrics and rocket-fueled riff a la a Siamese Dream-era Billy Corgan, is a virtual hailstorm of melody that ends in a soft rainfall of echoing guitars and dirgelike drums.

For the first few songs of this radiant album, there seems to be a pattern forming, an approach to writing and recording music that, however unique and refreshing, is derivative unto itself. But just when you think that you have this band pegged, just when you think that they are reverting to formula (albeit a very good formula), Aereogramme hits the brakes, shifts gears, and unveils a bewildering, beguiling, bewitching slew of songs that borrows not only from an expansive rock template, but, in a purely patchwork effort, manages to embrace elements of slow-core, electronica, ambient, and mood music. The soft and slow burn of “Hatred” with its halting piano bursting like tiny rocket flares and gently rolling guitars stirring like a cold and crisp autumn wind is a revelation, as is “Sunday 3:52” with its grieving cello line, barely-strummed acoustic guitars, playful orchestral strings, and jazzy drums that begins and ends with Craig B cooing coyly, “When the lights go out, I will be running over your name”. The glistening harmonies and multi-layered, textural aura of the spiritually uplifting “A Meaningful Existence” offer a respite from these fantastic but admittedly heavy-hearted cuts, consoling the listener like a warm welcome after a long and exhausting trip.

Aereogramme also triumphs when they employ the least amount of instrumentation as with the beautifully moody “Descending,” which consists solely of a single acoustic guitar line played atop a droning background buzz. For a minute or so, the song seems destined to drift aimlessly into obscurity and anonymity, but then out of nowhere comes an upturned vocal accompanied by an unexpected chord change and the goose bumps start to form with Craig B’s resolute, yearning voice repeating the line, “You turn your back / And I’ll turn around / Cause you were still further / Than I’ve ever found.” There is an aching beauty and pressing loneliness in those simple words, a naked and personal reflection driven by a haunting melody that seems resigned to its fate. “Motion” and “Messenger” are, in turn, dark, cool, and mysterious with sparse amounts of lush, organic keyboards that breathe life into their otherwise stark, minimalist arrangements. The quartet end the affair with the elegiac strains of “The Art of Belief” wafting lazily across your speakers before really setting things on fire with a blistering, bombastic outro that drapes over you like a safety blanket of angular dissonance.

Whether these songs are the result of painstaking planning or remarkable intuition is a matter of debate, but nothing on this spectacular work of art seems superfluous. Every note is vital and essential and placed exactly where it should be, revealing a startling clarity and maturity for a freshman effort. Each song takes on a life, meaning, and direction of its own, and the album still manages to sound cohesive when taken as a whole. It will be interesting to see how Aereogramme fairs in the US (the group hails from Glasgow, Scotland) and just what kind of support they will receive from Matador. A Story in White is nothing if not a brave sonic LP, indeed, one of the most complex and challenging albums of the year that somehow manages to traverse both ends of the rock spectrum. From subtle and gorgeous ballads to combustive and incendiary rock, one always gets the sense that, despite their penchant for inventive songwriting and passion for experimenting with the form, it’s still the song that matters the most.