For those who are wondering, that’s not a typo. Plesiosaur~ is as much in love with the tilde as we are. This particular punctuation mark also implies the form of a plesiosaur ~ long, graceful and undulating, a fair way to describe this music as well.
Memorial may come as a surprise to Tonesucker fans, since Steven Elsey’s solo effort is more expansive than abrasive. The album, comprised of three extended tracks, is an homage to Steven’s father. These tracks collect improvisations recorded over an 18-month period, and reflect the state of hearts in grief. The track titles may refer to the period of intense mourning, but the full album tackles a much longer period. (Stateside readers: in this context, the word “wake” refers to the gathering after a funeral, not the viewing before.)
“Death” begins in numbness, akin to the first stage of grief. Extended tones grow gradually in stature like slowly-returning emotions. A slow, measured breath contributes a melancholy tinge. When the bass finally enters in the twelfth minute, the news sinks in. The depths of emotion are about to be breached. Thick guitar drones seep into the sonic field a couple minutes later like unwanted regrets. And then the bells ~ are last rites being administered, or is an angel getting its wings?
“Funeral” begins with a garbled transmission: “for I am still … once again …”. A Scripture reading? EVP? Just as one fears the funeral section will descend into morbidity, the drones recede, revealing a lovely swath of choral melody. A funeral is a mix of emotions, light and dark, and Ramsey captures them well. The center section grows more active as drone turns to post-rock, a repeating guitar line joined by a low-toned, wordless choir. At 11:08. sludge turns to cacophony, and the entire project shifts to the metal realm. Some will hear anger, others grandeur; the character of mourning lies in the heart of the mourner. The bass repeats the choral notes as guitars swirl around the morass like angels and devils battling for a soul. Now that’s what I call funeral music!
The voice returns in “Wake”, which sounds less like a party than a slow-burning fire. Death can leave a gaping hole, and there’s no telling what might rush in to fill the vacuum. In this case, it seems that the rage must run its course. Again, the interpretation is left to the listener: is this the rage against the dying of the night, or the anger stage of grief? Whatever one’s interpretation, this album does not go gentle into that good night. Thanks to its willingness to plumb the depths of grief, Memorial sounds authentic, albeit at times uncomfortable: too close to home or just right.
Not all is dark. Intentional or not, the art contains a hint of hope: two versions are offered, pink and blue, like the colors of a newborn’s crib. In the midst of death, we are in life. (Richard Allen)