Grails Take Refuge in Clean Living

After having their violinist vanish unexpectedly, then releasing a reissued compilation of EPs (Black Tar Prophecies) and a fantastic new album (Burning Off the Impurities), this Portland, OR ensemble continue to evolve. Here, they add drummer Ben Nugent, giving former percussionist Emil Amos a front line spot and the lion’s share of instruments. What hasn’t changed is their recent interest in subtly folding world music influences into their hard-edged psychedelic sound. Far from merely outsourcing cultural ideas, Grails manage to hardwire disparate instruments and themes into honest-to-Abraham new music. The prize at the chewy centre is a cover of the Ventures’ "11th Hour,” which smothers the guitar twang with a heavy blanket of harpsichord and pomp-fuelled bass and electronics, turning the surf tune into a quasi-Soviet waltz. Along with Nugent, who shows no "new kid” jitters, the central usage of samples and sound washes marks a change in approach that yields excellent results. "PTSD” swirls its guitar and hand percussion around a pool of fluid natural sound sources like a dark forest pond. Closer "Clean Living” builds a network of electrical interference that a clear and deliberate piano theme emerges from. In five mid-length tracks, Grails assert themselves not as pretenders to an existing crown but as Regent of their own corner of the world. (Important)