CD Review: PELICAN Ataraxia/Taraxis
Over the last decade Pelican have increasingly positioned themselves at the clean, accessible end of the post-metal spectrum, their spare, uncluttered sonority more of a pair with Explosions in the Sky or Red Sparowes than it is with the prog workouts of Intronaut or latter day Cynic, the woozy downer trips cultivated by Earth and Jesu, or even the more densely textured layers of longtime label mates Isis. In short, they've become their own beast, but a domesticated one that makes more sense if you have a working knowledge of the aforementioned groups.
Ataraxia/Taraxis is their first release in three years, an interim that could play out fairly regularly now that the band members have fanned out from their former home base of Chicago (a diaspora that required each of the EP's four tracks to be recorded in a different studio). The change in scenery has had a small but noticeable impact on the band's sound.
"Ataraxia" is a fairly listless prologue, an uncharacteristic drone laced with acoustic guitar that clashes with the stoner jam session that follows, "Lathe Biosas". The latter is the most Southern Lord-like tune Pelican have written since signing to the label prior to What We All Come to Need (a companion EP, Ephemeral, was released by the label later in 2009; its inclusion of an Earth cover, "Geometry of Murder", seemingly establishing the tonal precedent for something like "Lathe Biosas"). Over heavier-than-usual drumming, the song very nearly finds the band in High on Fire territory, decimating juggernaut riffs driving what's probably Pelican's first mosh pit-friendly tune in ages.
Things mellow back out with "Parasite Colony", but just a hair. The pacing and atmosphere is akin to songs like "Strung Up From the Sky" and "Ephemeral" from the last album, but just when you get settled into that mid-paced groove, the stoner riffs pop back in to shake you out of your narcotic haze. Again, there is a lot that is familiar here, but particularly in the middle stretches Pelican seems to be tentatively pawing at the stoner/sludge milieu that they've spent the last 10 years trying to distance themselves from.
Such an about face is not necessarily unwelcome, but there's a certain uptick in schizophrenia here that wasn't present on the nearly seamless What We All Come to Need; "Taraxis" seems to exist initially to bookend the acoustic drone of "Ataraxia" before dropping out altogether midway through, rallying for a fuzzbomb finale that has little to do with the first three minutes of the song. That said, if EP's are supposed to be good for anything it ought to be trying out new ideas, and after three years in the wilderness Pelican are back to prove that they've still got it… even if they're weaning us on stingier doses this time around.
Ataraxia/Taraxis is out now on Southern Lord.