Release Date: 23rd April 2021
Label: Southern Lord
For Fans Of: Sunn 0))), Godspeed You! Black Emperor, MONO
Often, the most important or impactful words are the ones left unsaid. This isn’t just true of speeches and what people are saying; it’s also a well-known adage especially in jazz, that contests it’s the notes that aren’t being played that carry the most weight. In keeping with the spirit of this is French trio Big | Brave’s latest album, Vital.
Their sound is a multi-headed hydra that blends post-rock, doom, drone, more experimental tendencies along with emotional heft into a sound that could only be them. It’s something painstakingly crafted over years but especially since their second record, 2015’s Au De La. At this point they really started to challenge the notion of a three-piece rock band as having any kind of straightforward sound.
Vital is their fifth outing and, continues to push their sound forward while sounding exactly like Big | Brave. ‘Abating The Incarnation of Matter’ opens with a short quiet moment before giant, lumbering riffs and cascading drums make themselves known. Despite their crushing weight , there’s a sense of introspection. Lead singer and guitarist Robin Wattie’s vocals sound as powerful as ever, but there’s a sense of fragility in their emotional tones.
The instrumentals themselves, however, are anything but fragile. The often sludgy pace contrasts starkly to Tasy Hudson’s powerful driving drumming, while the riffs courtesy of Wattie and Mathieu Ball are crushing but equally as likely to slip through your fingers before they can be fully grasped. There’s a cinematic scope at work, too, that elevates the songs further still, only helped further by their eschewing traditional song structures. This atypical approach lends an organic quality to them, such as ‘Half Breed’, whose squalling feedback builds gradually before Wattie’s voice enters.
It’s on this track in particular that the band best exemplify that it’s what they don’t play that can be the most vital. Wattie’s vocals are often left unadorned and naked. This only serves to lend further weight to their emotional rawness, especially towards the end when she’s left completely alone, repeating the phrase “The pattern of” that leads directly into the next song.
The band state that the album explores issues of race, gender and navigating the world in a racialised body along with the impacts this can have on a person’s psyche. The freeform experimentalism of the compositions on Vital underscore these themes and the lyrics are the most poignant of all, perhaps the most profound in the band’s catalogue. Big | Brave are not a conventional band and Vital is not a conventional album – but it is, as the name suggests, a vital listen.
Recommended tracks: Abating the Incarnation of Matter, Half Breed, Vital