Pelican's music eludes being pegged into any genre — or subgenre, for that matter. On the surface, the Chicago band appears to play instrumental rock, but even that's subverted by its utter progression and attention to dynamics. Think of it like heavy rock for outer space — otherworldly headbanging music.
Spawned from the band Tusk, Pelican couples heaviness with hooks to achieve melody. However, unlike bands that use hooks to tiresome effect, Pelican lets its hookier moments develop naturally. A little harmony goes a long way for Pelican, notes drummer Larry Herweg.
"Since we don't have a vocalist, the melodies a lot of the time make up for that," he said. The hook "lets people wrap their minds around it and makes the songs memorable."
Despite not having a singer, Pelican still achieves tunefulness — not an easy task for a lot of instrumental bands. And don't expect that to change. "We just never had a singer," said Herweg. "If it's not broken, don't fix it."
Sounding epic without feeling tedious and winding, the four-piece uses heavy dynamics to create both aggression and comfort. The music is fast without being chaotic, soothing yet not delicate. Such balance is achieved through the flexibility of the members. "I think the band has to be dynamic to be interesting, being an instrumental band," said Herweg. "That is one of the most important factors of the band because the songwriting dynamic and the changes is what is going to keep people's attention."
Herweg says the new album, What We All Come to Need, which will be released October 27, fleshes out some of the band's prior explorations. "I think it is a lot of the things we wanted to try with City of Echoes," he said, referring to their last CD. "We had a lot of cool ideas, but I think some of the execution fell short." So far, only one of the new songs, "Strung up from the Sky," has been released on the band's MySpace page, but Herweg says the new album is unique in at least one way for Pelican: the last track "Final Breath" has vocals on it.
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the recording process went more smoothly for this record, too. "We had a little more time to sit in on it and really focus on. We keep in mind all the records of the past and we come up with the best of all three on this new one."
Part of that ease could be due to the band's new label. Signed to Hydra Head since its self-titled EP in 2001, Pelican switched to Southern Lord for its fourth album. The band makes a great addition to the Southern Lord roster, which has housed many genre-transcending acts in the heavy realm, such as Boris, Burning Witch, Earth, and Om. Pelican sees the label change as both as an opportunity for metamorphosis and the start of a new era. "We're hoping to loosen things up; it's a fresh start in a way," said Herweg.
The band has always put a premium on pushing boundaries, not unlike their forebears Isis and Neurosis. And the members have no qualms being compared to them. "I remember seeing Neurosis in the mid-Nineties and being totally blown away," Herweg recalled. "Their later records, they got into this psychedelic metal that paved the way for such bands as Isis. They definitely inspired us to want to write longer songs with more involved structures."
On any given Pelican album, there is an impeccable sense of atmosphere, reminiscent of both spacey and post-rock acts, but with a heavier slant. "We want to take the audience on a journey" said Herweg. "On some of those early records, some of those songs are breaking twelve-minute marks, and we wanted people's minds to wander and allow the listener to get lost in the music. ... I think it is our job to keep it as interesting as possible and not fall into cookie-cutter songs and the mainstream mentality when it comes to songwriting."
Unable to be pigeonholed, Pelican has toured with bands as diverse as Thrice, Zozobra, and Wolves in the Throne Room, playing everything from festivals to small halls. While the band looks to the future with many more projects, Herweg said he's unsure what they want to explore in the future. "I think once we tour and play these songs to death, that is when we know what to do next," he said. "You then know what you still like, and what will stand the test of time."
But Herweg says the most vital element to Pelican's success is "the drive and our inspiration. This is all we ever wanted to do: be in a band, write songs that are unique, and go into new territory."
The band has certainly achieved that.
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