By Ian Thomas
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
It’s tempting to say that the fourth release from Montreal’s Big|Brave, A Gaze Among Them, finds the band at its most accessible, but the truth is it just finds itself particularly in sync with the times. The experimental trio’s sound has emulated pulsing dread since its debut in 2012. In 2019, don’t we all? With song titles like “Body Individual” and “This Deafening Verity,” Big|Brave’s latest seems to channel the alienation and depressing inevitabilities of modern life.
The ability to find nuance within its massive sound (and within the silences) has always been what made Big|Brave so emotionally resonant. They lean into that playbook on A Gaze Among Them. The arrangements are minimal, magnifying the spaciousness and putting the elements that comprise the whole into a greater state of conflict.
Robin Wattie’s confident vocals hit the ear as invocations to some transcendent state, weaving disparate elements like churning riffs and plodding beats into something cohesive, if reassuringly off-kilter. Guest appearances by Thierry Amar of Godspeed You! Black Emperor on contrabass and producer/engineer Seth Manchester on synth overdubs accentuate without distracting from the central guitar and drum arrangement.
For all the heaviness of A Gaze Among Them, the moments in which Big|Brave sidestep the genre tropes of heavy music are the most compelling. The band will build tension through persistent, heavy riffs a la typical doom metal fare. Rather than release that tension with crashing finality, Big|Brave will end a phrase with an intimate flourish, like a small breath of synth. In denying the release, the band offers something more true to the lived experience and its frequent lack of satisfying resolution.
That’s not to say A Gaze Among Them is a drag. There is joy in the sheer emotiveness of the album. Fans of the band’s Southern Lord label mates Sunn0))) will find a different wavelength of a shared sonic spectrum in Big|Brave. If the punishing, monolithic drone of Sunn0))) speaks to the eternal and the maximal, Big|Brave’s fractured staccato addresses the precariousness of the day-to-day.
BIG|BRAVE with WISTERIA, FLOWER CROWN, REQUIEM. 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13. The Mr. Roboto Project, 5106 Penn Ave., Friendship. $10. All ages. www.therobotoproject.com