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Big|Brave - "A Gaze Among Them" | Album Review

big brave cover.jpg

by Tim Crisp (@betteryetpod)

A Gaze Among Them—the new LP from Montreal’s BIG|BRAVE—opens with a slow, deliberate drum beat that spans a prodding thirty seconds before a feedbacking guitar opens a wash of reverb, noise, and low-down Moog. This thick wall then follows along to further hammer upon each unrelenting kick drum and tom hit, and the holdover noise waits patiently to strike again. The sound of BIG|BRAVE is the sound of dense, heavy noise and the reverberating space that carries in the aftermath. It’s minimal in structure and decidedly maximalist in tone.

BIG|BRAVE has always been calculating. 2017’s Ardor exercised a restraint similar to that found on A Gaze Among Them. Both records utilize repetition as a means to spike listeners’ ears with heavy tones, though Ardor delivered its incisions through the use of slightly off-kilter beats while A Gaze Among Them is marked by a sustained simplicity when drums are present. Ardor, too, at three songs, each over 11 minutes, was a series of movements while Gaze focuses more on single, concise statement, even within tracks that approach the ten minute mark. “Holding Pattern” flows from atmospheric bed, into peaking chaotic heaviness, followed by an unrelenting death march all with a seamlessness to suggest they’re part of a single thought. It is one of the true achievements for a band like BIG|BRAVE to operate with this sonic palette without leaning into the easier conventions of the quiet/loud dynamic. “Holding Pattern” has a cathartic burst in its middle section, but the power lies in the sustained pattern that follows. Rather than let moments of noise completely explode, BIG|BRAVE masterfully finds a way to hold and maintain the flame. 

Of course then, there is singer Robin Wattie’s gorgeous vocals soaring above all the density beneath. BIG|BRAVE’s sonics feel like the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic cityscape—Wattie’s vocals serve to mourn all that’s been lost. Wattie’s emotive delivery employs the same minimalistic leanings that mark BIG|BRAVE’s structural senses. Every syllable is carefully placed and accentuated, perhaps no better than on A Gaze Among Them’s centerpiece “Body Individual.” The track—built upon a rumbling contrabass—is an anxious abstraction fit for function as an accompanying piece for a ritual sacrifice. Wattie stretches her voice from its highest points to its most guttural reaches within single syllable words. After guitars come in to move the song along, they fall back to Wattie, who holds in repetition, “Metal. Body unique. Metal body. Unique metal.”

Repetition is an art which BIG|BRAVE expertly sees to all possible ends. Whether it is to repeatedly hammer a sound over the head or to bleed all the emotional held in a simple word, they stay until all beauty, anxiety, dread, despair, and hope has been extracted. A Gaze Among Them manages to be many things, and it’s BIG|BRAVE’s strength as a unit that brings us to each cathartic moment and fills it with color, shadow, and light.