Nashville, Tennessee calls itself the "Music City" of the United States, but that reference is inevitably lost on anyone who can't remember anything before nu-metal, boy band pop, and grunge. Even those recalling sounds of 80s hair metal and new wave can't conjure up why exactly Nashville is such an "important" city. Forget all of that. In the twenty-first century bands everywhere strive to reinvent the wheel in an attempt to reinvigorate the modern rock world, and although country is still alive and thriving, many of us have long since turned a blind eye in order to witness the creation of something a bit more intangible and personally fulfilling. At one point in time someone dared to label this movement, and the term "post-rock" first invaded the ears of unsuspecting listeners. Many refused a limitation upon the potentials of such a "movement," or that a movement was even in motion at all, and still others sought to mold it into its own bizarre creation. But it was too late, for the seeds had already been planted...
A decade or so later this movement is in full swing in the underground world. Call it what you will -- post-rock, instrumental rock, experimental rock -- there's no denying that something has bitten the young musicians of the world and have inspired them to reach out beyond the compositions of old and stretch the boundaries of contemporary music in ways which almost makes the need for genre labels obsolete. In this world, Nashville is not the music capitol, which is likely bestowed upon Montreal, Canada. In fact, it's barely even on the map, tangential only because Hammock and Emery Reel reside at Franklin and Murfreesboro respectively, a short distance from Nashville. The Ascent of Everest aims to change all of that.
How Lonely Sits the City is the debut album from this young band, who came together only a year ago in its devotion to its craft. The Ascent of Everest suffered not one, but two hard drive malfunctions which basically led them to re-sculpt the album from scratch. The frustration can surely be felt throughout the course of the album, where the band attempts to hammer every nail into position and deliver a perfect, awe-inspiring performance. The resulting work of art hits the spectrum near bands such as Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mount Zion, and Yndi Halda. Presentation is a key component to the work of The Ascent of Everest, and it readily switches forms from guitar driven segments to orchestral upwellings to thick atmospheric drone and ambiance. The segues are often huge and greatly overlapping, which results in some extremely cinematic or cathartic passages. And although the band has only been playing together for a year, the cohesion present between the different members is so great it’s difficult to believe that they haven’t been playing this gig for years.
The Ascent of Everest starts off the album by showing its Explosions in the Sky influence with "Alas! Alas! The Breath of Life!" This melodic ballad travels around the sonic landscape like a graceful ballerina, spinning a grandiose tale of epic proportions. The slow buzz of the guitar slowly works itself into some innocent fluttering, steadily building up momentum as strings and drums are added to the mix. Things can only escalate so much before the drums and guitar take over in true guitar-rock fashion, but also Devin Lamp lends his voice for some very low-key vocals, which supplement the blissful explosion of energy. This optimistic energy plateaus and The Ascent of Everest continue to climb up the mountain. Quick, sharp drum beats anchor a rising violin and the smooth licks of the guitar. The second climb proves to be the one leading to the staggering climax. Someone triggers the reverb and it viciously swarms the sonic landscape in a sweeping motion while the violin punctures the surface with its high wailing. The song then winds down, and How Lonely Sits the City is off to a tremendous start.
Perhaps the most interesting song on the album is "A Threnody (For the Victims of November 2nd)". Those behind on their vocabulary will do well to know that a threnody is a song dedicated to the memory of a deceased person (not to be confused with a "dirge"). Now it's time for a bit of history (see, post-rock can be educational!). "Election Day" in the United States falls between November 2nd and 8th. The portion of the US population who bothered to vote in the last presidential election may recall that it took place on November 2nd, where George W. Bush defeated John Kerry. Throw in some audio commentary from Mario Cuomo (via 1984’s Democratic Convention) with some references to John Winthrop’s “A Modell of Christian Charity” (the “city on a hill speech”), and the song is ripe with political and religious underpinnings. Let that simmer for five minutes, with a slow, brooding musical foundation that boils over and spills forth from the brim of justice to cleanse the world of its plague of political deception. Or, so we hope. The Ascent of Everest reside within a “red state,” but they aren’t afraid to let their voice be heard, and that is something that we can’t afford to ignore anymore.
“If I Could Move Mountains” ends the five track album with the band in its most ASMZ inspired haze, complete with a composition broken into three movements. Lamp again lends his voice for an acoustically led chant that builds into the most beautiful epiphany on the album, known as “Majesty and Awe”. Afterwards the band recedes back into sparse instrumentation (“Collapse into Understanding”) and very hesitantly rebuilds momentum to conclude with another beautiful finale (“Gathered Hearts Rise and Sing at the First Breath of Dawn”). This time the guitar takes the lead, creating a wave of reverb that the violin rides so effortlessly into the sunset. It’s great to see a band finish off a superb debut with such an appropriately moving last track and really cement their place in the stateside instrumental scene.
The Ascent of Everest set its sight on a crowd pleasing debut album, and with a seemingly endless amount of hard work and dedication it has pulled it off. I can’t say the album is flawless, for there is definitely some room for improvement in the The Descent of Everest, but the band makes a very strong debut effort and shows itself to be tackling some very complicated compositions and utilizing some very sophisticated arrangements. Although the band’s influences are no mystery, it does do a good job of varying between its influences instead of relying too heavily on any single source of inspiration and coming off as a clone. That in combination with a little bit of its own magic makes How Lonely Sits the City quite a pleasant listen for the ears. Undoubtedly this is one of the better instrumental releases from the U.S. in 2006, if not the world at large.