splendid > reviews > 12/17/2001
Gregor Samsa/The Silent Type
Gregor Samsa/The Silent Type

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Gregor Samsa's "Untitled""

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This five-song EP is the tale of two bands from Virginia. The first is The Silent Type, which is mainly a showcase for the acoustic stylings and songwriting of Nathan Altice. The second, Gregor Samsa, was formed by Silent Type member Champ Bennett. Now that you know the family tree, let's get to the music.

The Silent Type is folk influenced, with lyrics that try hard -- perhaps too hard -- to be poetic. The disc's first song, "Jus Primae Noctis" (the right of the first night) details a couple's first sexual encounter and the alienation that results from their union. Although the song is really quite lovely, the titular conceit works against the song more than it helps. Otherwise, no problems. The other two tracks, "Subtle Fires" and "Waking the Ghost", profit from their lessened self-importance and shine more clearly. On both tracks, amazingly original acoustic guitar arpeggios ring out in tandem with simple, sustained piano chords. Mark Kozelek would be proud.

Now for Gregor Samsa. What The Silent Type lacks in depth and breadth, Gregor Samsa more than makes up for with their all-out assault. Drummer Tony Thaxton is playing some seriously big, hollow Dave Fridmann type drums -- remember the first time you heard "When the Levee Breaks"? Well, anyway, it gives me gooseflesh. Gregor Samsa's share of the EP is a pair of untitled tracks. The first of these is redolent of Radiohead's "Subterrean Homesick Alien", its intertwining minors and seventh chords mixed perfectly with the understated guitar feedback, keyboads, bass -- and may I mention the drums again?

The second track is the winner. From what I can tell, Champ Bennett has listened to Pink Floyd's Animals more than a few times. Somehow, some way, he summarizes about ten different moments from that album -- and a few from Dark Side of the Moon just to be on the safe side. The Fender Rhodes, adroitly played by Nikki King, haunts the opening bars, taking over for an overlapping guitar loop. The vocals are chorused and doubled and the Rhodes is passed over for a lilting piano progression that eerily evokes the classic Gilmour/Wright sound. A high minor seventh chord on the piano adumbrates the song's towering climax. After seven minutes of build, with a brief interlude, the band lets loose a wall of sound. This is the point at which the production staggers the educated listener. Key instruments are raised to prominence in the mix, but the whole band sounds louder. The group's expert control over at least ten very different sound sources will make you pay close attention to every minute of the song. And riding this sonic wave is a high, tremeloed guitar string that should hit everyone's musical g-spot immediately.

These are both young bands, and they don't tour that extensively, though this will change soon if they keep releasing material of this quality. Both Gregor Samsa and The Silent Type have the chops and the songwriting skills to deserve close attention, not to mention gloss. I admired The Silent Type for their sensitively-constructed songs, but I loved Gregor Samsa for their acuity when it comes to what mature music can sound like: Kafkaesque. -- Daniel Arizona



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