Crate-Digging: Milhaven – Bars Closing Down

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.

(12rec, 2005)

Can I take back the nice things I’ve said about this album? I think after inundating myself with post rock music for the past couple years, I’m finally at a point where I can be fairly objective about an exercise in that genre. At first, the discovery of the vast netlabel world held innumerable exciting opportunities for listening and ingesting, but it’s slowly becoming apparent that while, as they say, variety is the spice of life, the bands that trade in the slow build to wall-of-sound crescendo could use a bit more seasoning. It can all just turn into one big downer, you know? (It did find its way into heavy rotation during my London winter of ultra-depressing post rock/ambient/electronic listening.) So the greater the number of bands out there aping the GY!BE/Explosions in the Sky post-apocalyptic soundscape idiom, the greater the number of disappointing releases. The approach gets watered down – there are only so many nuances you can compose in this type of music before realizing that you’re stylistically boxed in.

So why lead off with something like this? Milhaven were an early find for me, so it’s with the benefit of hindsight that I can understand their appeal a couple years ago. I liked this album a lot better then. Even so, I thought the band’s I.M. Wagner EP was stronger, and I hope it’s aged better than Bars Closing Down.

The band itself is a 4-piece from Germany, and the record was released via the 12rec netlabel, so you can find it easily online. The description included with the album is in fairly humorous broken English, goofy enough to think that it’s a product of a Babelfish run-through or two. But the gist is that Milhaven’s a band, the sum of its parts, not singular musicians with varying aspirations. No, they’re a great, uncompromising consciousness spewing forth purity in music – they’ll record live to tape, dammit! They’re serious, if their hyperbolic labelmeister Sven has anything to say about it: “[E]very try of overdubbing would equal an amputation. So we took the risk of a hearing defect.” Assume a great big [sic] on that entire quote. Milhaven are the true believers, doing it the old-fashioned way, mistakes be damned. They’ve even holed up in a crappy studio where they can’t even see the engineering room – they have to shout down the hall to give and receive direction. And “in a movie, [the scary looking couch] would have made a smushy sound.” Ew. DIY, baby!

And it sounds like the record was recorded live to tape – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when sections fall flat here, it’s because of the lack of dynamic. Even then, it’s hard for me to fault Milhaven, because this release isn’t bad, I just wish there was more to it. Opening track “New Orleans” is probably my favorite on the record, mainly because it doesn’t sound produced by a post rock band. I can’t tell what the ambient noise is – it could be the ocean or traffic on a rainy day. But it accompanies a lightly plucked acoustic guitar and lasts only about five minutes. Then the rest of the album is standard, run-of-the-mill post rock, akin to Explosions in the Sky. Unfortunately, Milhaven is also prone to adding samples à la From Monument to Masses. Whereas the latter band weaves the spoken samples deftly into their compositions, Milhaven aim for gravitas and wind up with parody. On “Drink a Pint of Blood a Day,” an awesome title if you ask me, they drape the rantings of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now from the spiky pinnacles of guitar arpeggios. Apocalypse Freaking Now! I guess maybe they could be forgiven for including this on the grounds of being German and not quite understanding that sampling Kurtz within a post-apocalyptic song structure is like dropping Darth Vader into a space rock song – it’s so obvious that it’s disappointing. A rookie mistake. It also doesn’t help that when the song crests and all the instruments burst gloriously together, the sample continues to run, as if someone forgot to hit the stop button, or the band just had to have those two or three extra lines, as if they mean something special. They don’t – it sounds like an accident and should have been excised.

And that’s all I’m going to say about it. I am, most likely, being too hard on Milhaven, but they’ve got the makings of doing something really cool. I’m still looking forward to I.M. Wagner, and also their self-titled release from last year, but I think I can close the book on Bars Closing Down. Shame too – it could have been a great addition to the genre.

RIYL: Explosions in the Sky, Mono, From Monument to Masses

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