We originally published this article on May 25.
Just a hunch: you don’t feel you have a firm grasp on Her Name is Calla. Are we right?
Certainly the best example is The Quiet Lamb: the sonic assault likely throws you off, and the extended lowercase passages do. At times the compositions play as brassy and imbalanced, as is evidenced by the apocalyptic “Into the West.” At others, the thing pulses with erudition, even refinement (read: “Thief”). Now take the epic and unpretentious “River and Condor,” and answer that question again: you don’t have your brain around this project yet, do you?
They’re experimental, yet aesthetically grounded, and their albums really play. Pretty rare. And now that their 10″ release Maw is set to launch, it should come as no surprise that this painfully short record spills open with surprises.
Even a cursory review of the numbers lets us know that we’re in for a tectonic shift. The Quiet Lamb weighed in at 76 minutes: 10 tracks, most of them over five minutes in length, the longest clocking in at 17 minutes. Maw’s length scarcely exceeds that of “River and Condor” alone: 19 minutes over the course of three cuts, two of which are short enough for network radio. And within the inaugural moments it is clear that the material is also different — and exceptional — as the title track opens with chocolate milk guitar decanted into a sloppy, dissonant, stand-alone riff. Now, a sexy and thumping drum lick rides along, and now, Tom Morris speaks up with an out-of-focus, somewhat arena-rock drawl. There isn’t a moment like this anywhere near The Quiet Lamb.
The track launches into a hard rock bridge (think Frances the Mute, not Octahedron), until bringing things back to the low-register purr of the chorus. By the time the cello and brass chime in you’ll want to eat it, drink it, have it in your bed, snort it through a straw, stick it in your veins, whichever. But the goddamn thing is intangible, so the best you can do is to use only as directed: repeated listens.
Now Maw slips into something a bit more sultry, “The Beat That My Heart Skipped.” The deliciously slow shaker-and-voice duet — with the nearly inaudible guitar and occasional string feature — is the most reminiscent of the band’s earlier material. The death-obsessed lyrics ring a familiar note as well: “From the water’s edge, I blow you a kiss. Can’t even recall your face. Think I’ll go for a swim.” Pardon? “Treasure on the ocean floor/found your skull.” Gotcha. The track is pretty, and the plot is moving, although it isn’t nearly as engrossing as the surrounding material.
“Dreamlands” — the closing piece — is wholly unexpected.
In an earlier dispatch, this column referred to the track as an “11-minute acoustic rock opera,” and we’re sticking to the description. The piece is divided into three separate movements with two large washes of noise; for those readers wondering what Calla’s first step into electroacoustic might sound like, here is your answer. The first and third movements almost exclusively feature Morris: his luminescent guitar work, and that deeply aching voice. The second recalls the landscape implied by the song title: foghorns, siren calls, the blissful tug of sleep.
Spilling any more ink than this feels as if it would ruin the surprise. Suffice to say that — while Maw is not what we would have expected — this taut and intelligent work is exactly what we need.
Pre-order now, at the links below: