Past Lives Find Balance and Tame Chaos on Tapestry of Webs

Past Lives will perform at 7 p.m. tonight at Sonic Boom's new Capitol Hill store.
Artist: Past Lives

Album: Tapestry of Webs

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Release Date: Today

Rating (Skip, Stream, or Buy): Buy

Download: "Hex Takes Hold"

The opening track on Past Lives' Tapestry of Webs is a simmering, slow-burning song. "Paralyzer" is backed by Mark Gajadhar's steady, clean drumming, distorted guitars, and a consistent undercurrent of feedback. Jordan Blilie's voice--that unmistakable, high-pitched warble of a voice--is the focal point here. Blilie actually sings on "Paralyzer," something he rarely did in his previous band, the Blood Brothers, favoring screams and wails instead. He even adds harmonizing "oohs" and "ahs" as the song collapses into a chaotic, cymbal-heavy conclusion.

With its sparse instrumentals but constant rhythm, "Paralyzer" is strangely reminiscent of "Give Me the Cure," a song from Fugazi's 1998 self-titled EP. While those similarities may not have been intentional on the part of Blilie and his bandmates, it's no stretch to see a connection between Past Lives and Fugazi or between the Blood Brothers and Minor Threat, the bands' respective predecessors. The narrative is similar: a much-loved hardcore band dissolves, and former members (or member) form a new band with a completely different musical sound, while the comparisons to the previous incarnation remain.

Of course, only a few songs Tapestry of Webs sounds like Fugazi, just like only a few echo jazz-infused post-hardcore. One lesson Past Lives has learned since the Blood Brothers' 2007 break-up is how to make use of space and emptiness in songwriting. Multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson and guitarist Devin Welch don't strive to fill every note with music; instead, they're practicing balance. "Don't Let the Ashes Fill Your Eyes" is an example of this: the louder and more chaotic the instrumentals becomes, the simple and quieter Blilie's vocals are. He sings plainly and slightly off-key; he's not competing with the music for attention.

The songs here are a diverse collection. "Hex Takes Hold" is the closest Past Lives comes to a pop song: there's a bridge, a chorus, horns, and Welch's surf-rock inspired guitar. "Deep In the Valley" is incredibly lyrical and melodic, with sparse instrumentals; Gajadhar's drums are brushed rather than pounded. Tapestry of Webs is by no means a beautiful album, although it's interesting, eclectic, and a sonic earful. There's a lot going on in these songs. Tracks like "Past Lives" can be completely overwhelming, while others blend into the next without a clear ending, making it difficult to tell where one song begins and another ends.

Past Lives bear only a passing resemblance to the Blood Brothers; on just one track on Tapestry of Webs--"K Hole"--Blilie lets out the occasional scream, the instrumentals lack any clear melody, and the song changes tempo and style halfway through. But the feeling--the sense of inspiration, the idea that this music has potential to wash away our previous conceptions about what makes a good song--is still there. (Fugazi had a similar effect: raw, eclectic, and original). In some way, the band members must understand this connection: the lyrics on Tapestry of Webs reference skeletons, years past, paths overgrown, and crawling backwards. But if this album is any indication, Past Lives are innovators. The band is moving forward, toward something new and promising.

 
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