trespassers william: having (Nettwerk, 2006)
For a relatively young band, trespassers william certainly has achieved a great deal of success (measured in specific terms, that is). They’ve had songs from their 2003 debut full-length, different stars featured on two different popular TV shows (The O.C. and One Tree Hills), and on two movies (Love Song for Bobby Long, and the upcoming Annapolis). Did I mention that different stars was released on a large major music label? They also shared the stage with such musical luminaries as Damien Rice, Stereolab and Morrissey. Not bad for a dreamy/slowcore band with only one CD to their credit. However, anchored by the delicate voice of Anna-Lynne Williams and trespassers william’s ear for writing memorable songs and encasing them in a coating of beautifully opaque sounds, different stars not only impressed studio execs in Hollywood, but fans of music as well. With such success coming after their debut, trespassers william found themselves in the unlikely position of having to follow up a CD so well received, seemingly setting up the inevitable sophomore slump. Indeed, when word that trespassers william was recording their second full-length CD, having, the anticipation was immediately palatable. And, when news broke that legendary Dave Fridmann (yes, the same Dave Fridmann from Mercury Rev who’s also worked with Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Mogwai, Low, and others) was on board to mix and help with the production of having, the anticipation grew to unfair proportions.
Yet, in rare form on a sophomore release, trespassers william have delivered an exquisite study in quiet intensity and longing in having. On this 11 track full-length, reportedly recorded in a rented house in Seattle, having showcases a band blending folk sensibilities with dreampop, post-rock, and slowcore, referencing bands such as Low, Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, and, of course, a little bit of Mercury Rev denseness and whimsicality. The band alternates from soft and lonely melodies that ring in the ear of the listener, to louder, more aggressive rock climaxes that rival any space-rock band. However, as on different stars, trespassers william excels on having in two main categories: the warm yet forlorn vocals of Williams, and the band’s ability to craft catchy and strong melodies, even in the midst of meandering slow-tempo songs. Granted, the band excels in many other aspects, such as their arrangements, incorporation of subtle electronic nuances, and the beautiful production, but these two elements really set trespassers william apart. All throughout having, Williams sings like a lost, world-weary child (I mean this in the best possible way), and her faint voice perfectly meshes with the desolate landscapes that the music paints. In the midst of these sullen moments, Williams sings songs whose subtle melodies ring in the ears and are instantly accessible to ears of the listener they caress.
On having, all of the tracks are beautiful, as they reek of a close attention to detail while being true to the songs’ requirements for dreamy and swaying production. As such, the CD is best experienced as one long experience. However, there are some highlights that inch their way forward in the listener’s mind…pinnacles that barely stand above the other tracks that tower with grace. “safe, sound”, which opens having, is one such example. The 6 minute track opens with meandering drones, before a heavily distorted voice emerges from rumbling sounds. After a bit of time of this spine-tingling introduction, the voice sheds its distortion, revealing a pristine female voice that sings along to a distorted percussion base while atmospheric elements float along. It’s a beautiful introduction to this long-awaited CD, and fans of trespassers william are sure to have their fears of a sophomore flop quenched by “safe, sound”. The song slowly and stylishly builds to a full-band approach while retaining the chilling elements of the opening moments of the song. “weakening” is one of those songs with an instantly accessible melody, but while the song is gorgeous in its relatively subtle and light treatment, things really get interesting in the track immediately following it. “eyes like bottles” sounds to me like a dreamy postlude to “weakening”, as it utilizes the same chord structure and tempo. But, rather than being sparse in instrumentation, it incorporates hazy drones, lots of layers of dreamy guitars, and distant vocals that shimmer. An utterly beautiful musical moment that’s way too short at one and half minutes. Another highlight is the catchy “i don’t mind”, with another extremely strong melody, as well as it’s loud post-rock climax featuring multiple guitars and crashing drums. “ledge” is another amazing track, with creative drumming and suspended sounds that cradle Williams great vocal performance (a great vocal performance turns very special when she reverts to a heavenly falsetto right around the 3 minute mark of the song). “my hands up” might just be the best track on the CD (which is saying a lot!) with its gorgeous melody and perfectly dreamy and wistful production. More creative drumming snaps through the slow-moving atmospheric sounds as Williams heartbreakingly sings of acquiescence to hardship and pain. “matching weight” ends having, on a gentle note, lulling the listener with ever diminishing drones minutes after the song proper ends.
having more than delivers for fans of trespassers william, and is sure to garner new fans for this gifted band. It’s early in the year, but it’s hard to imagine having not making our year-end hall of fame, with its exquisite music and performances. And I haven’t even made mention of the sullen lyrics (examples: “this is not the first time that I’ve watched the end of that thing that had no end”, from “what of me”, or “it’s strange how light catches on things like there is nothing else” from “and we lean in), or the beautiful artwork on the CD liner notes! having is a stunning release of rare elegant beauty that will go down as one of the most cherished releases of 2006. Not bad for a young band indeed.
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