Natural Snow Buildings are like a holiday, save for the fact they often show up more than once a year. You look forward to it, it often involves some serious wrapping, you have a basic idea of what it’s going to entail, but at times it lets you down. Other times you are surprised by how perfectly it went. So let it ring: the first release of NSB’s annual onslaught is upon us. I am not a completist of this particular band’s discography or a rabid collector, but I will venture to say that they are the best drone band to come out of the aughts, particularly because they transcend drone with minimalist world rhythms and tinges of psychedelic folk throughout their massive improvs.
The sheer output (dozens of records, all pushing upwards of an hour in running time, some several hours) would seem to be their downfall (for many experimental bands it is), but NSB’s sound is so fresh and brilliant it is often the opposite; fans are basically insatiable. In my listening there is more mind-blowing music than not, but even if you have a solid formula, it can still become formulaic. Last year’s The Centauri Agent was a bit of a let down for me. A two disc monster with a 40-minute plus title track, it was a sign of a lack of musical ideas or wasted space (the ultimate drone killer). Their moods and textures are all over the map, but it seemed that the output was reaching maximum capacity in terms of where it could go or how interesting it could be a second, third, fourth time around. But standards have been set high, to say the least.
Waves Of The Random Sea is a return to the good old stuff. A double LP that is (relatively) full of brevity. It has less of that unfocused spacey feel from some of their recent releases. Drone has been scaled back a tad in lieu of folk leanings, beautifully highlighted by sequencing between field recordings, soft, acoustic guitar strumming/finger-picking and Mehdi Ameziane’s fragile vocals. The brisk “Abduction Dream” is one of the more gripping songs on here, a dark clatter of feeling just like its title suggests.
Also, it should be noted, that as with every NSB release, it is a true piece of art, something you can never get a feel for with just a cold, lifeless mp3.
Anyway, this is a great album, the first of 2011. I’m sure they will have more to come. As it stands, it’s a nice summation of a lot of the themes and styles they have played with over the years, with some very excellent moods and moments. It could be a stepping off point for a little more experimentation with their sound on future recordings, a little bit of a progression in their evolution as a band, or they could just be showing that they are ultimately comfortable sticking with what they know, refining it to a true synthesis of all the music they’ve made the last 10-plus years. Either way, I will be happy to listen.