Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Pelican
March into the Sea


Released 2004 on Hydrahead
Reviewed by kwd, 03/10/2009ce


Tracklist:

March into the Sea
Angel Tears (JK Broadrick remix)

Jesu(s)... another yawning plod of a Broadrick remix that detracts from the original and adds nothing to this EP, but that’s a discussion for another time - underwhelming remixes. What matters here is March Into The Sea, a 20-minute track by Chicago four-piece Pelican.

It’s no surprise that their instrumental rock expansions found a natural home on Hydrahead, the label run by Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom, Greymachine et more), but even though Pelican are dancing with Southern Lord now, they had a pretty prolific run with Hydrahead. An eponymous EP and 3 full-lengthers - Australasia, The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, and City of Echoes – plus assorted split singles with Mono and These Arms Are Snakes amongst others means there's plenty of stuff out there, so maybe it’s a little bit mean to propose a one-track EP as the Best Of Pelican.

But that's what it is - certainly from the Hydra years. Not because it’s the only track that warrants some eartime, but because it’s the track that’s got the best of what they do: stacks of riffs, a feral gut-punch and a long, low-gradient acoustic comedown, all scoped out over a third-hour stretch. At 8 minutes longer than the Fire In Our Throats album version, this extended cut is a real gem. Why? Because once you’ve done the full March and taken in the shifts and changes and textures and tempos, you know that, finally, Pelican have given you summat you can’t wait to play again - because they’ve gone and scored a colossal Moment. And that Moment is a raging flash of kick-drum ferocity half way through, a blast of aggression unlike anything they've ever done before. It's fleeting, of course, and it seems odd to pin a review of a 20-minute song down to a few seconds in the middle, but those few seconds juice the whole track and create a bona fide tension-and-release dynamism. That's what makes you wanna go back and March some more.

Compared with some of their other stuff, and despite being a fair bit longer, March Into The Sea has a primal urgency and a rawer, looser vibe… more of the thickened up post-thrash prog they excel at, less of the Explosions In The Sky/Red Sparowes fragility they’re sometimes prone to. On this form, Pelican squat confidently alongside their Hydrahead peers. Can’t exactly say they sound LIKE Isis – not in the way Cult of Luna did (and that’s absolutely no criticism of Luna) three albums back – but they do share an orbit with the big I’s Celestial era.

So if this is the best of, what about the rest of Pelican - worth a go? Yes

BUT

selectively. Or at least, knock the expectations down a notch for the early albums. With the luxury of a full-lengther to fly around in, Pelican can drift on the wind – a bit samey/predictable, and often too workmanlike to carry the unforgiving (and forced) art-rock banner so readily tossed out by gushing critics, even when at their most inspired. Better instead to head first for 2001’s Pelican EP, a rugged little 4-tracker that captures their dense, organic clang ‘n feedback as well as anything - and at around 30 minutes for four songs, it's a compact set without cracks. No filler.


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