A specific passage during my first listen to the new Do Make Say Think record – the band’s first for eight years – made me realise they still have something profoundly special to offer. It arrives two minutes into “And Boundless”, after an unexpectedly pounding diversion of rolling drums and strobe-like electronics. The drums have ceased, hushed by noodling guitar. A jarring chord once resounding, now waning. Two minutes have now passed. The drums tiptoe back in and a lead guitar introduces a blissful, counter-rhythmic melody. The passage is remarkable not so much for what it is, but where it is. Expertly sequenced, it arrives offering respite for the weary – a valley between precipitous peaks that ironically marks the record’s transcendence.
2009’s Other Truths focused on transitions, the Toronto-based band exploring longer-form, more compositional songwriting. It signified a slight divergence from the hazy, rustic excursions that have long been the band’s signature, arguably epitomised in 2002’s & Yet & Yet. While as long in the tooth as fellow Canadian post-rock luminaries Godspeed (and certainly more prolific), DMST have spawned fewer imitators and managed to chisel out more or less for themselves a large cavity in the genre for their inimitable pastoral-inspired post-rock (past-rock, perhaps).
With the band now officially in their third decade, Stubborn Persistent Illusions nonetheless reflects an energised group of musicians revelling in a second wind. Electronics feature more strongly than ever before. Its occasional bombast and loudness surprises. An overarching concept unifies the tracks. Opener “War On Torpor” starts with a brash, almost staccato drum pattern and furious tremolo acoustic guitar. Breathlessly urgent, the track in time calms a touch to something more recognisable – the drums restless and dictating the mood, in true DMST style – but it soon builds back to a cathartic echo of the start.
While somewhat misleading, “War On Torpor” introduces a set that does mark a return of sorts to more focused songwriting – but one that also coasts in the transitional tailwind of Other Truths. This is best shown in the wonderful and sprawling “Horripilation”, whose synth segues, shuffling drums and polyrhythmic guitar lines combine the finest of old DMST and new. “As Far As The Eye Can See” rejects an easy switch between its two acts in favour of an elaborate interval. For an entire minute, the band sets the stage with post-production effects and hissing synths before slowly raising the curtain on the final act. These stand-out tracks are eclipsed only by the masterful centerpiece, the one-two of “Bound” and “And Boundless”, which cleave to one another without seam. The 12-minutes of music transition from calm, chiming guitars and shuffling drums through a pounding rhythmic hook to the heady heights already described.
The band takes further tentative steps from familiar idylls with a nod to a narrative. Given the set centrepiece, it’s no surprise that a Buddhist poem about boundlessness and recurrence was its genesis. Invoking something of the spirit of meditation, so often mischaracterized as emptying the mind, the poem depicts a wild mind reveling in rather than quashing the arbitrary avenues it ambles down. Buddhism teaches that examining such thoughts promotes internal well-being by giving one a clearer reflection of self. Many of the track titles convey thoughts and feelings both instinctive and irrepressive (“Horripilation”, “A Murder of Thoughts”, “Return, Return Again”). The flowing, perambulatory nature of the lengthier tracks invokes the spirit of such feral thoughts; the occasional repeated motif – as at the end of “And Boundless” – reminding that all are linked in the subconscious, no matter their darkness or strangeness.
At over an hour long, the LP starts to lose some of its thrust toward its close. “Shlomo’s Son” is the weakest of the several softer passages, while “Return, Return Again” starts with an infectious guitar ostinato that nods to math-rock, but soon withers to an open-ended rather than tidy conclusion. It’s a conclusion at least in keeping with the narrative. Stubborn Persistent Illusions is loose in both concept and, at times, adherence to the DMST blueprint. In this way does the band truly exemplify their boundless spirit. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)