Cerberus Shoal – The Land We All Believe In

Cerberus Shoal
The Land We All Believe In

There is no band more reviewed on Delusions of Adequacy than Cerberus Shoal. Of the 12 reviews thus far, I personally have written eight. When I discovered the Portland, Maine band, I was taken in by the gorgeous, flowing, orchestrated sound that seemed a more grounded take on the Godspeed You! Black Emperor mystique. I was suitably excited enough to purchase the band’s back catalogue, and I loved every bit of it.

But all things change, and Cerberus Shoal developed its sound, growing more experimental with every release and mixing in a host of unique instrumentations and world music influences. And, to be honest, I tried as hard as I could to really enjoy these new styles. I listened to every release, and I found some exciting and encouragingly original music, but it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to my more pop-minded ears. I began sending Cerberus Shoal albums to other writers, because I just didn’t know what else to say.

The Land We All Believe In is this prolific act’s eleventh full-length release, and while it’s by no means pop, its encouraging in a way some of the band’s previous efforts were not. I’m discovering that this experimental project has definitively honed its sound. The host of instrumentation no longer sounds like it’s being used because it was in the studio. The most lengthy songs no longer sound like they’re stretching on in impromptu jam sessions. The vocals sound integral to the songs, and the rhythm is upbeat and almost danceable. It still sounds like a gypsy-rock hybrid of sorts, but therein lies its humble beauty.

The album opens with the title track, a quiet and relatively simple piece that mixes pretty (and slightly haunting) vocals from Colleen Kinsella and Erin Davidson along with an almost poppy rhythm. If this seems a bit tame for this experimental band, it’s over in just over four minutes, with the nearly 12-minute “Wyrm” to follow. Something akin to a gypsy romp, Chriss Sutherland’s edgy vocals lead the song, which contains everything from tympani and marimba to accordion, and I’m reminded of the moody yet almost danceable nature of Squirrel Nut Zippers. “Pie for the President” changes pace completely, a short and humorously bouncy track that’s fairly biting in its political diatribe but probably better skipped to maintain cohesion.

“The Ghosts are Greedy” takes a while to get going, and when it does, it’s almost eerie in its haunting vocal approaches as it relays a nightmare-inducing story of a fiendish doctor and the patient’s existentialist interior dialogue. It breaks apart and comes together, and when it does, it’s frenzied and intense. “Junior” is more easily enjoyable, a 10-minute romp that’s pleasant and even playful, riding African influences for a style that can resemble a march of elephants. “Taking Out the Enemy” is a nine-minute track, starting with a fun, lighthearted mix of rhythm and horns, and while it changes regularly as do any of this band’s songs, it’s maybe the most accessible track here. The vocals are more proficiently presented, the guitar more pronounced, the rhythm strong and less world-influenced, and even the eerie spoken-word part at the end sounds fun.

I like The land We All Believe In more than any Cerberus Shoal release in a while. I still feel songs like “Wyrm” and “The Ghosts are Greedy” could be stronger if shorter and more constrained, but these songs transport me away from an upstate New York winter to Eastern Europe, where we’re sitting around a campfire and dancing and taking pleasure in the ability to create music that’s lively, engaging, and always inventive. I applaud Cerberus Shoal for taking risks, for making so much music, and for pushing its own boundaries. I will always look forward to hearing what this band will do next.