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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2008: #4

Make A Rising
Infinite Ellipse and Head with Open Fontanel

I discovered Make A Rising when I was booking a show last spring as Promotions Director of WPTS-FM in Pittsburgh. We had two bands for the night, The LK from Sweden and Civil Twilight (whose music can now be heard on House and VH1 series Scream Queens) out of South Africa. Trying to figure out how to promote the concert, I finally decided to emphasize the "international" flair of our offerings, grabbing local downtempo genius Discuss (originally from Puerto Rico) and calling it "Rock U.N." (like Mock U.N., only cooler). Then, in an effort to avoid competing for the same date, local promoter and all-around-good-guy Manny Theiner offered up the two bands he was supposed to have at his venue Garfield Artworks that night--a local post-rock band called In the Wake of Giants, and Make a Rising, a little-known art-rock collective from the Center of the Earth (actually from Philadelphia, but I jumped on their employment of Edmund Halley's Hollow Earth Theory to spice up the international line-up a bit).

The concert went wonderfully, and the absolute highlight of the show for me was Make A Rising, in their hand-sewn animal costumes and warbling harmonies. I went to their merch booth after they finished because I had to pick up a CD. Typically, I only buy t-shirts from bands these days because I want to support them and give them my money, but a CD I'm just going to throw away after I upload it to my computer. But these guys I had never even heard of just a few weeks before, and I knew I wasn't going to have much luck in finding their albums on the internet or in the library we had at the stations. Plus their t-shirt designs pretty much sucked. So a CD it was, and now, months later, their sophomore release, Infinite Ellipse and Head with Open Fontanel, has landed at number four on my countdown.

The CD, like their live show, is a bit difficult to truly sum up. There are moments of beauty, where the junky off-beat rhythms (and I mean junky literally--it sounds like they are banging on trash cans and household appliances) and voices join in what can only be described so cheesily as "choral wonderment," but as soon as you think you've got these boys pegged down, they swing into crunching guitar breakdowns, blasting away as heavily as Meshuggah for a few bars, then letting the madness evaporate into twinkling pianos. And that is all in just the first song.

Part Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, part Animal Collective, this man-beast of a music machine is raw and it is gentle, a schizophrenic mixture of everything good. When trying to describe their music to a fellow WPTS DJ, I said that they were sort of like "Of Montreal at a Rennaissance Faire smoking salvia," but even that is too constricting for them. What is so wonderful about Make A Rising is their ability to do anything at the drop of a hat. Their command of composition is unparalleled in pop music; they know just what to give when, and how to deliver it. The changes in single songs are enough to make your head spin, but when you sit down and listen to the entire album as a whole, you begin to understand it. Their methods may be unconventional, but they are a pop band at heart, a hyperpsychadelic version of the Beach Boys perhaps. This album is a trip, in more ways than one; something so novel and creative that only these exact guys from Philadelphia (or the Center of the Earth, if you'd want to believe them), at this exact time, with their exact influences could have managed to create. There is nothing cookie-cutter about this, and for that sheer brilliance Make A Rising comes in high on the list. No pun intended.

Make A Rising - Woodsong Part One

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