Parlour – Simulacrenfield

Parlour - Simulacrenfield

For the better part of ten years, Tim Furnish has indulged his prog/post/art/hard-rock jones under the name of Parlour, a septet that shuns vocals and fleshes out the ubiquitous rock band instrumentation with a woodwind section and some synthesizers.  As is the case with most bands of this ilk (Explosions in the Sky, Tortoise, Mogwai), there’s a fine line to be walked between tuneful melodicism and bloated experimentalism, and Parlour more or less achieves that balance on this, its third LP.  Though Simulacrenfield – which carries on that fine Parlour tradition of cumbersomely titled songs – is heavier and more cathartic than previous releases, Furnish and his bandmates see to it that even the lengthiest tracks –such as the 11-minute “Sea of Bubbly Goo” – aren’t stilted by relentless pummeling, gluttonous bombast, or gratuitous jamming.

Still though, Simulacrenfield is a sinewy and muscular record, with even the reed section (Steve Good – clarinets, and Craig McClurkin – tenor sax) occasionally given to shockingly abrasive riffing.  Kicking things off is “Destruction Paper,” a track that functions as a synthesis of all that Parlour does well.  What begins as an escalating series of chiming guitar chords and clattering cymbals in 5/4 time eventually gives way to a stomping 4/4 groove propelled by Jon Cook’s monstrous drums and FX-treated woodwinds.  As the song is developed by layers of industrial fuzz and ethereal Reich-ian rhythms, the incessant application of a melody in 5/8 from the tune’s intro becomes more hypnotic by the second.  As a result, “Destruction Paper” manages to come off as visceral, cathartic, hopeful, and mesmerizing all at once.

Though arranged in a less complex fashion than its predecessor, “Camus” is more foreboding and unsettling.  Built around siren-like synths, shimmering guitar chords, and a frenetically looped rhythm from the reeds, the track shows traces of jazz improvisation, not unlike what might result from a union of Explosions in the Sky and avant-garde jazz heroes Medeski, Martin, & Wood.  The aforementioned epic closer (“Sea of Bubbly Goo”) is another instance where the wind players seem to relish the opportunity to bring some skronk to the mix, letting their instruments growl and snarl while the rest of the band nearly drowns under the noisy squall of clanging drums and searing guitar feedback.

Despite its puzzling moniker, Jalapeñooptics is among Simulacrenfield’s closest brushes with alt-rock, where only the clarion call of the clarinet stands out amongst the metallic barrage of drums and fuzzed out guitar.  Often buried in the mix, Nadeem Siddiqi’s melodic bass lines come to the fore as well.  In stark contrast to the song’s hard rock chug stands “Wedder,” which marks the album’s first proper slowburner.  Alternating between two chords in close proximity to one another, the track’s ghostly atmospheres and sullen dreamscapes are a welcome change from the album’s weightier first half, though it does still smack of standard post-rock fare.

Most of the album is produced to sound larger than life, and it’s the dual guitar work of Furnish and Breck Pipes, along with Cook’s seismic drumming, that provide most of the heft.  The LP’s title track is one of the rare instances on this album where a little bit less would’ve resulted in a little bit more; the lurching rhythmic intensity and unsuspecting atonal portions of the song make for an unwarranted digression into noise-rock.  On “Carrier” however, the guitars’ liberal application of distortion and reverb makes for an intriguing attempt at shoegaze. It’s only the horns’ agitated riffing that leave things in a more mercurial state than might be expected for such ambience.

For a band that’s had five years to piece together some new material, Simulacrenfield might be disappointing venture.  Nonetheless, Parlour is making music that’s every bit as captivating as their older material.  It may be a challenging listen at times, but chances are it’ll take you more time to wrap your brain around the song titles than the music itself.