I ended my review of the previous Potomac Accord
Line on a Black Sea, by stating that although the
music was lovely and well done, there was something lacking.
Some ineffable cathartic quality that The Potomac Accord are
able to impart through their live shows, but which they failed
to capture on that album. Well i am pleased to announce that
they managed to capture that quality quite well on In
One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten, and the
album really benefits from this fact.
Their previous album was a bleak disc with complex yet minimalist
songs that screamed from isolation and loss. Without catharsis,
there was no end to the bleakness, so i found it difficult to
listen to that first album. Here, they play the same sort of
songs, all lonely and moody and screaming and sobbing, yet at
the end (and a few places in between) a crack of sunshine breaks
through the clouds, and it seems as if all is not lost with
the world they describe. I cannot overestimate the value of
this feat. It is what separates an album that is merely vaguely
depressing from one that is truly enjoyable.
Since there are only 6 songs crammed into the 49 minutes of
the album, i shall consider each briefly.
The album opens with A Quiet White Cut by the Longest Blue
Shadows, a long tune that begins slowly with a lightly tinking
ride cymbal, ominous piano, and half-heard voice. Slowly the
drumming grows in force, adding subtle tom hits here and there,
while the piano grows and the bass adds light accents. After
three minutes the music swells up with a cacophony of synths,
piano, bass, thunderous drums, and steadily more forceful vocals.
Eventually, the song fades out slowly, with the lyrics repeating
"I will swallow you" over and over
After that fade out, Sunset on the Empire begins with
static and fuzz, as if someone is trying to find a decent radio
station. The song then begins in earnest with forceful piano.
The piano carries this one along, accompanied by a sliding bass
riff that reminds me of something off of Slint's Spiderland
album -- it has a real math rock feel to it. With the piano
and the deep drumming, this is another great song, even though
the chanted refrain here is "And everything ends" said over
and over again.
If the basswork is good on Sunset on the Empire, it
is even better on The Empty Road. Here the riff is half
jazz, half math rock, and all slinky goodness. The vocalist
sings differently here -- his voice is colder and more distant.
I guess that's the residual creepiness from the first album
seeping in. At any rate, the bass drives this one along wonderfully.
The combination of the creepy vocals and the bleak subject matter
(just look at the title and think "existential isolation") would
lead one to believe that this is another depressing tune. However,
after building to a fury of drumming, bass riffage, and staccato
piano hits, a female voice comes in and reads something in French.
I have no idea what she reads, but after she is done the song
is back, this time faster and with strings, and somehow the
dark mood has lifted. It is a glorious moment of release.
Up next is Some Kind of Farewell Forever, which is
another title that does not seem to describe a happy little
love song. This is a melancholy, languid tune that starts off
with rich pianowork and subtle voice that build to a brief frenzy,
and then lazily fade out. Not the most spectacular song on the
album, but not a snoozer by any stretch.
Next is The Ghost of Kalamazoo, which is a long, slow
tune. It has melancholy moments and strong furious moments.
This is what Godspeed would
sound like if they were a piano-based band from the American
midwest. It ends with a lovely piano, drum, and bass breakdown
wherein the band really show their stuff. The piano part in
particular is stunning. The song just builds and builds, until
suddenly it stops dead with one last drum hit. The sudden silence
always shakes me slightly. Sometimes, i want that little rock
out piece at the end to continue forever.
Finally, the album ends with Newly Fallen Century, a
live favorite from the band. Every time i have seen them perform
this tune i have been bowled over. It packs a world of emotional
depth into a mere 8 minutes. It is also the only song on this
album to not feature the paino in a prominent position. Here,
the pianist plays stacatto guitar riffs, and the bassist thuds
aways mightily. This builds to a massive frenzy, with all three
band members harmonizing wordlessly away from their mics, so
that the sound of the voices is half-buried in the overall sonic
frenzy of the tune. Really, this is an amazing song, and i have
to say that The Potomac Accord have succeeded in capturing its
glory on record.
Overall this is very well done. Not only are the members talented
musicians who work well together, but they also produced this
disc themselves. No mean feat, considering how good it sounds.
Heck, at this rate they can always consider secondary careers
as recording engineers!
To sum up, In One-Hundred Years the Prize Will Be Forgotten
is a well recorded album of powerful, emotional tunes. It is
sad at times, angry at times, and joyous at times. I guess you
could call it "post-rock", if you want a convenient genre niche
in which to place the band, but i think they transcend that
genre. Sure, there are echos of Godspeed in Ghost of Kalamazoo,
of Slint in The Empty Road, of Talk Talk in Some Kind
of Farewell Forever, and of Mogwai in Newly Fallen Century,
but the band has succeeded in merging influences from those
four giants of the genre into something uniquely their own.
Of course, the uniqueness might come from the prominence of
the piano in their sound, but i think it also comes from the
almost emo style of the vocals.
Really, if you are curious, i urge you to check this album
out. You won't regret it. In fact, you can order it right from
band's label. And of course, if you have been lucky enough
to see them in concert, then you need to get this album.