April 18, 2002

Ed's Underground

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Does it ever end? Prior to the phenomenon of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, that Montreal-based collective of doom-and-gloom instrumentalists, Canada had produced very little music that ever got much attention Stateside. In recent years, Montreal seems to be making up for that by exporting so much good music that it’s difficult to keep up. Hrsta is yet another project to rise up out of the fertile Montreal scene.

Other than some by-now-expected sound collages and tape loop-heavy experimental instrumentals, this record features some rather unexpected rock songs, taking Godspeed’s apocalyptic vision in an utterly new direction. Singer Mike Moya, whose voice at times evokes, surprisingly, Gordan Gano of Violent Femmes, carries the sparse and emotional vocal cuts which are the highlight of this album.

“Lime Kiln” is a taut, slow-building rocker with moaned vocals over insistent guitar chords and a dense wash of instrumentation including raining cymbals and a plaintive saw (played by Fluffy from Molasses). The arrangements on these songs often sound like a more fleshed-out version of Molasses’ skeletal folk; whereas that group aimed for harrowing tales of depression, Hrsta combines this downbeat mood with a Godspeed-like proclivity for crescendos and the noise collage approach of fellow Montreal-ers Set Fire to Flames.

“21-87” is another highlight, taking over 7 minutes to build up from whispery balladry to a dense rock climax. The album’s second side is marked by a handful of plaintive songs like the epic “Silver Planes,” which finds Moya murmuring over an ambient drone, and “Lucy’s Sad,” which features some oddly jaunty guitar strumming to counterpoint its minor-key melodicism.

What can I say? Another fantastic addition to the ever-growing catalogue of albums from Montreal that you really ought to own.

Archived article by Ed Howard