Here releasing their fourth album in nearly a decade, the antipodean multi-instrumentalist three-piece Silver Ray aren’t new to the post-rock scene, although it’s fair to say that they haven’t quite achieved the impact of some of that genre’s key proponents.
Less abrasive than Mogwai or Godspeed! You Black Emperor, darker and more demanding than Explosions In The Sky, Silver Ray’s strengths lie in their intricacy, their versatility, and their restraint. With just a skeleton crew they carve vast soundscapes that soar and dive, by turns delicate and plaintive, driving and caustic.
They’re a difficult band to define, as their own MySpace attests: Visual / Melodramatic Popular Song / Soundtracks / Film music runs the four-ply categorisation, echoing the difficulties of music critics everywhere in finding an adequate pigeon-hole to lock them into. Harder still is making it through a review without recourse to stock imagery of landscapes and nature – see the paragraph above for an example of failure here – yet inevitably it’s here that your thoughts are herded, Australia’s canvas skies looming large over every note, the music more befitting of poetry than critique.
This is less a collection of distinct tracks than a flowing, shifting array of moods and tones, from the melancholy of Larisa to the driving, insistent guitar of Trail of Deception. Prove It, Don Quixote shivers and waves, ethereal, as though struggling to take shape, whilst 12 Miles evokes the mournful yearning of post-apocalypse. The Streets of Melbourne, initially upbeat, soon creeps with encroaching, anxious menace; closer Homes For Everyone shimmers with the echoes of a less-glacial Sigur Ros.
The album runs for forty-five minutes but doesn’t feel it, the songs restrained to fairly modest running times in comparison to the sprawling expanses of their forebears on earlier releases: nonetheless, it’s still an exhausting listen, one that requests solitude, headphones, space and patience, but rewards those who bother. It’s certainly not an album for every occasion – at points you’ll be longing for a power chord, for some snarling, vicious burst of white noise to disrupt the poised precision of the thing; in the wrong mood you’ll find it sterile, tedious, some of the piano lines veering perilously close to the drek piped into elevators – but when pitched correctly it enchants.