Every post-rock album released this season arrives in the wake of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s surprise comeback. Of the myriad releases in this umbrella network, none is so competent and so Godspeed-like as the self-titled debut effort from the Paris collective Le Réveil Des Tropiques. The hallmarks are all present, from the shredding segments of improvised squall to the burgeoning, lumbering quarter-hour monster tracks to a laissez-faire attitude that borders on the anarchic. The band was quickly assembled from pieces of other bands, most notably for readers of this site Frédéric D. Oberland (FareWell Poetry, The Rustle of the Stars). After a few months, there came a two day, three night jam, resulting in two discs of wild abandon. This combination of post-rock, sludge, and psychedelica takes a while to digest, but eventually enthralls.
I’ll always associate this album with Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed houses down the street from my own. While I had played the album both before and after the storm, it was the last album I played during the storm, prior to the power outage. The album is one of buildup and release, the musical mirror of howling winds and pounding rains. To play the opening track, “Jerusalem”, is to know that a storm is just outside one’s windows, already pouncing, already threatening to increase in strength, and that the time for fleeing has gone; the only remaining option is to ride it out. The cover photo was taken at Coney Island, which took a heavy beating in the storm (and happens to be half an hour away from my house). There’s no indication in the image itself, but knowing that the photo was taken just a week before 9/11 adds to the sense of joy followed by impending doom. Tragedy is built into the very fiber of the music, as each of the nine tracks is named after a “lost, destroyed or suffering” location: Tenochtitlan, Kinshasa, Anthemusa. One of them, Syria’s Homs, is currently under siege.
Le Réveil Des Tropiques is storm music, even without the storm. “Antebes” borrows its bass line from The Pointer Sisters’ funk classic, “Yes We Can Can”, but fails to bring the line to fruition; the passage is cut down like a power line in a hurricane, leaving the listener vaguely dissatisfied, resting on the edge of an unachieved culmination. As the track staggers toward chaos, the bass pattern temporarily changes, but the golem returns to sign the final statement. As the last clouds form during the finale of “Tungusta”, the listener is prepared for the onslaught of the second slab. The album’s fastest track, “Sigiriya” speeds off at nearly 200 b.p.m. and only slows in its final fourth. “Sigiriya” is named after the rock-hewn Sri Lankan fortress. While listening, one can imagine a pitched battle, an Autobahn race, a typhoon hitting land. “Kinshasa” shifts gears, starting in a deliberately slow fashion before seizing the reins of power, reflecting the abuses of Mobutu in the Congo. “Yonaguni” sneaks up on the listener like the earthquake that forever destroyed part of the Japanese island.
The cities reflected in these songs may be on their way to recovery, but their scores provide little hint of healing. Instead, they simply observe, recording the trauma for later generations to unravel. If there’s any consolation to be found in these pieces, it’s that the tragedies befalling these cities have not been forgotten, even if centuries have passed in the interim. The presence of thrashing guitars and pounding drums is the opposite of mute witness, but serves the same cause. In the aftermath of tragedy, a thin line of hope typically emerges, a sliver of sun through the clouds; Le Réveil Des Tropiques allows those in the midst of tragedy to imagine a similar outcome. (Richard Allen)
Release date: November 20