Jun 4

Ali August and the Abandoned Buildings – Is This Darkness?

by Edward, Filed under: Reviews

Eli August is back, and he is better than ever. This is no cliche, it’s the honest truth.  Eli and his fellow musicians  have done some excellent work in the past, and I have been impressed with it all.  But with Is This Darkness?, they have outdone themselves.

Honey features very visceral, gripping guitar that is diamond sharp and distant, almost reminiscent of the Doors. Backing vocals are fabulous, and the percussion is masterfully emphatic and hard . Eli’s voice is filled with strength and hope.  

Kentucky is a mesmerizing song with a fun Calypso type air.  There is some hot Jazz wonderfully thrown in.   The horn interludes add some real bite to the song . Backing vocals are superb. There is a choppy kind of percussion that nicely contrasts with a touch of bluegrass style picking.  All in all, Kentucky is a pure masterpiece. 

The Writer slows the pace for a bit before launching into a rousing,  energetic paean to the craft of writing.  “If there is no one to read what you write,  do you vanish into the night?” This theme echoes some of his previous songs, and it is nice to recognize the connection. The percussion relentlessly  pursues the furious guitar, that rages evocatively as Eli’s vocals rise to anthem-like heights.  Play this song LOUD. Then play it louder.  

Alive Again begins with slow, reflective piano. Eli’s vocals are low, fervent, and intense. The simplicity of the arrangements are very effective, proving the old adage that sometimes, less is indeed more.  And the listener certainly needs no more here.

The War is very much  anti-war, with a rolling gait almost reminiscent of a sea chantey, along with military-type snare percussion, and Eli’s fervent vocals. The backing vocals are a superb counterpoint, and clarinet soars as the song rises to a crescendo of poignancy and loss. ”Bodies are baptized with shells on the shore/that never come back from the war.”

A Light in this Life starts low and quiet, then launches into a rousing rock-type anthem, possibly the hardest that Eli has done to date. But then suddenly the tone drops into a very moving tableau of guitar, horns, and flute. Then Eli’s vocals practically explode, buttressed by strong percussion, and finally the song sinks to  murky depths of reflection and regret. A thunderous, nearly orchestral  finale abruptly ends the song. “A Light…” will linger in the memory long after the final notes subside. This is Eli’s  own“Ride of the Valkyries”.

Shadow and Stone is poignant and slow, but somehow keen and crystal clear. Eli’s vocals are showcased here, and his delivery is quite similar to pieces on his previous albums. The backing instruments are soft, with sort of a Renaissance “drone” effect that is very subtle.  Suddenly at about 3:00, percussion rears to the fore into and the song turns heavy, finally ending with a clever bit of a militaristic tattoo. ”But then the But I press on, into the dark.  And hope for change, somewhere in your heart.”  

Wilhelm Screams is one of my favorite songs on the album.  It begins with a Gothic Western sort of feel, Neil Young meets Marty Robbins, with a touch of the Heathen Apostles. There is a wonderful cadence to the song, like a stagecoach rolling across the dark plains. Eli’s voice is firm and strong. The guitar is very interesting, understated but solid.  Strings flow around the vocals like clouds stirring ahead of a storm.  “When you look up at the moon you see only a lie…“   

Next, Eli goes into a minimalist mode with Misery. This song is delightfully reminiscent of 19th century parlor music. Vocals are evocative and sincere, with keyboards and strings providing a sparse, yet poignant atmosphere. There is an odd sort of discordance here, that is very subtle, but quite gripping.

A Waltz After Midnight continues on the path set by  the previous song, but with a darker edge.  A swinging waltz tempo glides with Eli’s vocals as strings swirl around them like phantoms. There is a wonderful sort of Gypsy or Latin feel here, with a duet of backing instruments that is phenomenal, they culminate in a fast, rousing romp that momentarily reminds me of the long-vanished Israeli band Geula34. The pace slowly increases, becoming a vaguely sinister panoply. This is simply a great song.    “We all know the price but too often we can’t pay the cost...”

A Departure is a fitting end to this fine album.  Stylistically it is similar to Waltz but the theme is more direct. Part anthem and part plea, there is another fine interplay between Eli and the band. Deftly handled, sharp guitar and vigorous percussion set the pace, while Eli’s vocals are clear and sincere. In many ways this is an archetype for Eli’s work.

Is this Darkness? is Eli August’s finest work, and this is no mean feat, as his last album was a pretty tough act to follow. The production is fantastic, superb arrangements, great lyrics, and he is backed by an outstanding ensemble. Eli’s voice is stronger than it has ever been. Many of his songs have lost his trademark tremolo, and are more vocally diverse. While his music is tinged with melancholy and regret, you will find no fashionable, over-the-top angst here. His music will resonate for us all, reflecting the deep heartache of the soul that everyone feels in the darkest hours of the night. Yet there is always something more,  the possibility of some sort of redemption. Eli’s music remarkable honest and sincere. He is not afraid to step outside conventions, and you will certainly never find him following the herd. Is The Darkness? stands as the artistic pinnacle for Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings, but I am sure it will only remain so until their next release.



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