I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
To borrow a thought from Carl Sagan, mathematics – or even more elementally, numbers – is the language of the universe. Mathematics and science don’t have any form or function until we derive meaning from them. Oriin’s assertion that all things are numbers is true – in the most basic way, numbers are the purest representation of the world around us, as well as the universe. And they fit together – there’s order, and we study, observe, and apply that order in many disciplines so that we as humans can understand our place in the universe as well as our purpose.
But of course, the numbers can sometimes be stacked against us – that still doesn’t imply chaos, just the opposite in fact. Call it regression to the mean. Or, to put it more basely, shit happens. Cycles end and repeat. Calm becomes storm, and winter becomes spring, and yet clearly these things are meant to happen, and they are measurable in numeric form. And even major catastrophes – earthquakes, floods, nuclear winter, comets hitting earth, the sun exploding or expanding to engulf the solar system – can be contained in basic (or not-so-basic) formulas. Life and numbers are fused inseparably.
But that’s heady stuff for what’s essentially a rock record, even a post rock one as this is, so the high concepts have to find purchase somewhere, and they do. There’s real humanity to be found in the textured post rock Oriin delivers – apropos as the band shares a home state with fellow catharsis junkies Explosions in the Sky, the big Texan landscape a fertile breeding ground for this type of expansive, instrumental rock. Hearts beat, blood pumps, lungs breathe, and people struggle. Post rock 101.
The album opens on a postapocalyptic wasteland, the result of either human destruction or cosmic event, but we’re not privy to that information. “Costilla” begins with what sounds like the Godspeed You! Black Emperor trademark screwdriver-strummed guitar, cymbal washes, all ambient and desolate. Soon the full band kicks and shakes off the rust, and we are given a sense of survivors in the scene, poking their heads from underground shelters, surprised to be alive. They slowly group together, tribelike and shellshocked, and head toward what may be a fertile valley to restart their lives, now stripped of any sort of modern trappings. “Into the Valley” is ambient piano, guitar, and scattered percussion, a shuffling of the humans toward their destination.
As the survivors enter the valley, there is a sense of purpose and hope, and they realize that – “We Will Rebuild” soars in defiance to the situation, cosmic circumstances be damned. The human spirit is the one variable that, if a human remnant is left after the numbers take their toll, can transcend the situation and strive to move to a greater plane of existence. One cycle ends, another begins. The humans can root themselves to this new home and expand from there. They face trials, however, as they forage and search for sustenance “Beyond the Great Valley,” as the guitars come to the forefront, tense and anxious, illustrating the toil and the struggle to survive.
But survive they do, as “We Will Live Forever” attests, with uplifting guitars and hopeful vibes chiming over a marshal snare, a middle finger to the cosmos, as it were, as civilization really starts to take hold in the valley. Now fruitful and bursting with life, the oasis tucked into the ravaged world is the very epitome of hope. The track ends in jubilation, and the future of mankind is written. “Part 1” and “Part 2” close the album at the end of a long, hard day, stars coming out to the east as the sun sets. All is quiet, all is good. Earth completes another rotation, and cycles begin, end, and continue with the precision of the universe. It’s measurable progress, and we can comprehend it.
RIYL: Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor