The Great Depression – Unconscious Pilot

The Great Depression
Unconscious Pilot

A great American writer once declared that a large part of what makes good writing is its possessing the intangible quality of being able to reach out to its audience and teach them how to read that particular piece of writing. The idea being that as one discovers a work, the work simultaneously informs the reader how best to go about that discovery. It’s an interesting aesthetic, and one that the songs on The Great Depression’s new album, Unconscious Pilot, manages to achieve almost effortlessly without exception.

Each track here is patient and deliberate, drifting through dreamy soundscapes filled with pianos, organs, percussion, and unbelievably warm-toned guitars that together reveal each song’s well-defined though somehow still understated individuality. By the end of each track, one is left with a very clear impression of a feeling, an image, or a scenario that is separated but not entirely divorced from the rest of the record. If all that is too abstract to follow entirely, that’s probably because it’s an extremely abstract album. Let’s try and be a bit more direct.

Probably the most impressive aspect of Unconscious Pilot is how many different approaches the band uses and the different directions they take in their attempt to find the right avenue for each particular song. The opening number for instance, “The Baltic Sea,” is the perfect song for a late-night drive on a winding dark road. While layered with feedback and largely inaudible lyrics and multiple harmonies, its groundwork is set with a no-frills, dangerously infectious 3/4 beat that has one’s head bobbing like one of those stupid dashboard ornaments with the springy necks. “Two is Fine” is equally driving with its steady kick drum, but the effect is entirely different. The song is more up-tempo though still moody, but has hints of bands like New Order or Tears for Fears thrown in there. Then comes the perfectly titled “The City by Ultralight.” Never before has a song so aptly sounded like its title. Taking the first two of minutes of its three minutes to filter in out of the ether and slowly turn into a song, it sways with fuzz and male/female harmonies to the point that it could almost be a B-Side off of My Bloody Valentine’s shoegazer handbook, Loveless.

The eight-minute epic dreamsong, “Meet the Habsburgs,” has more space than John Cage could know what to do with. And just when you think you’ve figured out the whole “Great Depression sound,” they chime in with 70s horns for the beginning of “The Sargasso Sea,” which is something like a soup spiced up with dashes of Belle & Sebastian, Evan Dando, and hmm . . . maybe earlyish REM? Throw in the catchy Morrissey loving “Violent Goodbyes,” a Boys For Pele-like piano instrumental, and the last track, “Advents,” which might have been written after one two many spins of Red House Painters, and you’ve got an album to brag to your friends about that you discovered it.

My apologies and regrets for dropping so many names and comparisons there, but the scope of this album is too great to be summed up in a few cleanly stated likenesses, and I’d rather err on the side of sounding pretentious than I would on the side of giving the wrong impression. Still, despite its ambitious variations, the record is entirely cohesive and not disjointed at all, a success largely due, no doubt, to the impressive production performed by one of the band members himself. Buy this record.