Pelican’s (the birds) are part of the Pelecanidae family and look and sound unorthodox and odd. Swooping into the water filling up their mouths like feathery flying whales as they gorge on the fishy treats lurking beneath the waves. The Pelican seems tangential to its’ more graceful brothers like the swallow, the kestrel or the humble sparrow, seemingly too big fly with predominating bills and a comedic gait when on land. What, you say, does this have to do with music aside from a hugely tenuous link to the band’s name and that of the aforementioned bird above…well it’s a good question…. allow me to retort. The parallels here are clear.
Chicagoan’s Pelican seem slight, and unassuming on stage, fragile almost, certainly not capable, you would imagine, of producing the sound they do. At first listen, Pelican appear disjointed, discordant and tentative. But as they wrap their collective hands around you and squeeze you tightly, the veil falls, and you’re suddenly experience something akin to bliss, a discombobulated state that oozes over you like being consumed by quicksand whilst having a head massage. The suddenly realisation that you are in the presence of something other worldly. With an extensive back catalogue, Pelican are certainly no ‘Johnny Come Lately’ to this. They have been through the mill, put the hard miles in, have suffered line up changes that could’ve finished lesser bands off, but prevail they have and with this their 6th full length effort, Pelican have built on that cumulative experience and created an aural masterpiece that manages to defy typical genre conventions that makes the job of reviewing ‘Nighttime Stories more difficult, certainly, but it’s all the more enjoyable despite that.
Since their inception in 2001, it would be fair to say that Pelican play in a sandbox with slightly older children such as Isis and Jesu but their influences seem to extend far wider than that certainly as Pelican have grown and their musical output draws from a deeper well of experience and influence. An accusation with (mostly) instrumental bands is that it can, on the face of it, look and sound like a musical circle jerk, self-indulgent, musical bucking the slobbering donkey. I agree, some bands are guilty of this, but Pelican don’t simply take a single idea and jam around it for 10 minutes, the songs on ‘Nighttime Stories, have structure, pace and subtlety. They may not be in a particular hurry to get where they’re going but that’s part of the fun. Album opening ‘WST’ is a slow meandering introduction to Pelican’s groovy guitar soundscapes that caresses and cajoles before segueing into ‘Midnight and Mescaline’ that lightens the mood slightly, more upbeat and orthodox time signatures that could come off an early Soundgarden album without Chris Cornell’s heaven-sent vocals as it crashes to a spectacular conclusion. But it’s ‘Cold Hope’ that really raises the hairs on the back of the neck, as the tone shifts, into bleaker, darker, less hopeful waters as the riffs wash over you like a burst dam, with some glorious lead guitars bleed over your head keeping you warm as you suck in a lungful of liquid death. It’s a discordant masterpiece that roars like a wounded Lion on the Serengeti mourning the death of its pack.
Pelican are a beautiful amalgam of things, post-rock, post metal, post-hardcore, doom, sludge, rock, drone…. I mean you could apply all these labels and none and you must give Pelican credit here for creating a sub-genre all their own, declining as previously mentioned the ability to be tagged into one specific scene or genre. There’s such light and shade here and for all that to occur without the easier option of having a frontman to hitch your wagon to, is to be commended. ‘Arteries of Blacktop’ slows things down a notch and here you can really hear a touch of Will Haven’s aural sludgy wall of doom-laden crunch. Much of this album is hugely oppressive, weighty and dense, it pushes your head (to continue the aquatic theme) under the water and keeps it there just long enough before pulling you up with a feather light touch, weeping, happier chords, lighten the mood and I think that’s what this album does. It drags you all over the place, into places you don’t want to go whilst showing you glimpses of salvation, safety and hope. Pelican stand almost alone in what they do and whilst you can hear traces of post rock overlords, Isis (never, ever a bad thing), Cult Of Luna and at times Helmet (surprisingly, although their guitar tones and riffing do recall Page Hamilton’s) this is very much their ‘thing’. Uplifting, crushingly heavy, catchy and joyous, ‘Nighttime Stories’ builds, extrapolates and improves on previous Pelican musical forays. It’s not straightforward, it’s challenging but immerse yourself, luxuriate in this album and transcend to a higher plane.
(9.5/10 Nick Griffiths)