APSE Spirit(ATP) Buy it from Insound
I must be a sucker for music that takes a firm grip around your neck and doesn’t let go. For years I’ve been singing the praises of Liars, another uncompromising band that literally dances to the beat of its own drummer. And now we have APSE, who seem to have taken some cues from Liars, and post-rock bands like Mogwai, to provide a soundtrack for Vikings sailing down From the North, to ravage the landscape and take no prisoners. The songs are mostly instrumental, with thundering, primitive beats and scattered, chanting vocals, riding the not-so-loud, loud, louder, loud, not-so-loud crest that sucks you in, mashes your head, and then leaves you adrift. It’s a familiar formula but I’ll be goddamned if it doesn’t work more times than it ought. It helps when the band members are all in sync with the concept at hand, contributing to the overall vibe rather than showing off. On Spirit, everyone is suitably subservient to the rhythm, which dominates as it should in this context. The bass offers rock bottom support while the guitars ring and hover, never careening off on solo flights. Everything pounds away with warlike purpose, a soundtrack for the invading barbaric hordes.
The song titles give us a clue what APSE is up to; Legions, Ark, Shade of the Moor, etc. But all you need to do is listen to get the message. For fans of Braveheart, you can amuse yourself imagining scenarios of pillaging the plains of Europe. For the rest of us the music is evocative enough, creating a remarkably sustained mood of menace and foreboding. Earth Covers Us, with its insistent bass drum and deep drone is representative of most of the album. Every accent and flourish is derived from these basic elements and never works against them. As a result the music gains a hypnotic quality, but is actually quite gripping rather than soothing. You might find yourself with a slight feeling of anxiety after a listening session, your tense muscles relaxing only as the disc ends. This sounds a lot more unpleasant than it actually is. Sure, you’re not going to get up and dance to it (I hope), but the dissonances are anything but radical and the vocals are strangely beautiful in a haunting way, which gives the whole raging Norsemen theme a deeper meaning, imbuing it with a touch of the feminine.
APSE went under the radar in 2008. This wasn’t a criminal oversight but it was still a shame. They made one of the most interesting records of the year, and after hanging around for most of this decade with only a couple of eps to their name, here’s hoping that they get right back to work so they can glom off the hype that will inevitably go to this years’ Fleet Foxes. No one deserves that much, but a little would be nice.6 January, 2009 - 20:26 — Alan Shulman