“BLAUWGEEL,” the sophomore album of instrumental group All Shall Be Well (and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well), is not post-rock. It is not post-rock or ambient or cinematic. It’s a blend of these elements, and a large, rich step away from the group’s debut album, “ROODBLAUW.” It’s a high-energy, melodic product of four guys and their instruments and each of their stories weaving and winding together. And although it’s the same four guys from 2011, when “ROODBLAUW” was released, they have different and more and maturing stories this time around that lend themselves to a record that boasts a new growth and boldness in the band.
All Shall Be Well, based in Haarlem, describe themselves as storytellers rather than songwriters and performers, and as far as I can see from their two records, this is entirely accurate. When considered separately, each album spins a yarn of its own—“ROODBLAUW” one of youth and innocence and trepidation, and “BLAUWGEEL” one of adventure and bravado. When the two are juxtaposed, however, something new emerges.
RELEASE DATE: 04 November 2014 LABEL: Self-Released
I listened to the later album first, found myself nodding in the general direction of its kind-of-post-rock-but-more-intense feel. I tried the earlier album a few days later and was surprised at the stark difference between the two. Where “ROODBLAUW” whispers minimal, quiet, background, furtive, “BLAUWGEEL” asserts itself as weatherworn, callused, but in the end triumphant. Where “ROODBLAUW” is the young son lost in uffish thought, “BLAUWGEEL” is the beamish boy, triumphant, heroic. Vanquisher of the Jabberwock and veteran because of it. And as in the end of the Lewis Carroll poem, “BLAUWGEEL” is above all a homecoming.
Like the union of the two albums, the adjacency of pieces within “BLAUWGEEL” highlights musical subplots within the overall story arc of the full record. Each track is a microcosm; each instrument within the track is another layer of the fractal storytelling. And just as in the two records, something new and transcendent of genres transpires when the instruments are put together into tracks and the tracks are put together into the entirety of “BLAUWGEEL.”
The opening track, “For the Ones to Whom Neither the Past Nor the Future Belong,” begins simply and apprehensively, with gentle, solemn organ sounds that segue into a melody echoed by a solitary acoustic guitar. Perhaps the first few moments of the album were intended to be an interlude between the debut and sophomore records; perhaps they were only meant to serve as a prelude to the imminent chronicle. Regardless, the downbeat tone before the introduction of the drumbeat suggests to the listener that the album is not about carefree youth—that the storyteller is conveying some loss of innocence and nonchalance. As the first track progresses, a richness in tone becomes evident, and the harmony of a second acoustic instrument highlights the steady drumbeat. As the prelude lapses into the bulk of the plot, it becomes more and more evident that the track conveys a journey across many genres and years. The track closes similarly to how it started, with individual instruments taking turns carrying the melody.
“Some Speak of the Future, Others of the Past,” makes obvious in not only its title but also its light yet highly present beat that the storyteller is one of the latter. The echoing clean guitar that appears during the first two minutes is distinctly nostalgic and brings to mind a shorter, simpler time in the life of the group and the storyteller. Notably, somewhere in the last two or three minutes of this piece, the drumbeat picks up and the cymbals kick in and suddenly the album is all thrashing post-rock and blinding victory.
The third track, “I’m a Hunter, Not a Thief,” blends the lighter elements of the previous piece with the minimalistic guitar of the first track, producing a sanctuary-like quality. Once the drums pick up, the piece starts to sound like church bells; they peak in the fifth minute. Even with the introduction of louder guitar towards the end of the piece, the bell-like quality persists until an abrupt ending that transitions into the fourth piece, “I Do Not Belong,” whose initial grating, rolling melodies are reminiscent of Sigur Rós’s “Svo Hljótt.” The intense energy quickly fades into a more downbeat style, which in turn lapses into a somewhat more at-peace, minimal version of the album’s prelude. Even more quickly than it died down, the song picks up at the very end to mirror its high-energy beginning and follows into “Everything Can Be Anything Else.” This track combines the church bells from the third piece and the gravity of the first. Although its energy never reaches that of the other songs on the album, the high-pitched, recursively resolved tune at the end starts to resemble “I Do Not Belong,” suggesting some cyclicality to the tale.
The final piece, “Storytellers (Buko)” is the string that ties the album together. Beginning with a dismal, dragging drum, the piece starts ominously, then introduces a chime that that brings to mind a music box that tells the same harmonious story every time it’s opened. After the first few minutes, guitars start to layer into a reflective, evocative tune that sounds like opening the front door one late afternoon after an indescribably long trip and watching the sunlight stream through the windows into pools on the floor. Even when a sheer guitar is added in the last two minutes, the original melody is still lucid. The track and the album end with the airy drum that began the piece and the story is over, but the listener is left with the feeling after a good movie—nostalgia and a gratifying homesickness.
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Review by Blythe Davis