Glorious Fowl

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Australian ambient experimentalists cook up a subdued sonic storm

The Melbourne quartet Heirs are an odd bunch.

Forever shunning the spotlight and content to lurk beneath the glossy mainstream surface, the group has ensconced themselves in a comfortable niche frequented by an admiring congregation. So far, the niche, being a wondrous combination of post-rock minimalism and other experimental doodles, has brought forth two albums. 2009’s Alchera was a surprise that proved a tad too dark for comfort. This year, Heirs is back with its flightier sibling, Fowl. On the cover is bird man standing in his makeshift nest, uncomfortably streaked with avian excrement.

There is one other very important factoid with regards to Heirs aside from their status as indie darlings: They have music in excessive amounts, melody too, but no lyrics.

Heirs are instrumentalists supreme, forsaking lyric poetry for immense soundscapes buttressed by melancholic electronica. Heirs music would actually compliment more than a few original movie soundtracks, as compositions like Burrow in the new album and the title track evoke the proper mental imagery of impending drama that preempts climactic eruptions.

Heirs are inclined to epic compositions, which is why their first album clocked in at a huge 43 minutes. There is no redemption with Fowl, though at its conception, drummer Damien Coward only had a one-track single in mind plus an alternate version.

Spurred by a flood of creativity, the foursome surrendered their original plans to realize the immensity that is Fowl. Luckily for the human race, or at least the segment that’s likely to succumb to the group’s wiles, Fowl is an anti-commercial opus and a remarkably engaging listen.

Although not recommended for jolly diversion, Fowl’s seven ambient masterpieces are ideal for the following scenarios: long drives through the gray urban expanse that’s daily fare for most city dwellers; staring-at-the-sky moments; solitary walks in a rain-soaked neighborhood; bird watching; observing the wonder and power of nature; and, perhaps, the sequel to Inception, thanks to the hypnotic dreamlike quality of the present material.

Fowl gets a proper beginning with Dust, a brooding opening salvo whose single great achievement after nesting in the listener’s brain is to unravel somewhere in the middle, its muddled distortion soup a lousy parting gift to the ears. It unravels somewhere because it’s hard to keep track of time when listening to Heirs music.

But the really good stuff comes around when the title track and Burrow ooze out and fire the listener’s imagination. Heirs, being three grown men and a smart female, are expert at executing huge symphonies with bare musicality. Thus the whole of Fowl, which only goes seven songs deep for the better part of an hour, feels like a never-ending downpour of wondrous music.

The wondrousness isn’t a dull monotony, however, as Heirs have a knack for nuance, a taste for the technical, and a keen focus on eliciting moods from the ears receiving their music.

In Tyrant, jangling bass lines and an abbreviated span mark the album’s most fervid stretch before the gloomy drama of Men, whose throbbing percussion hammers like a beating heart electrified by foreboding.

The more whimsical Mother signals the approach of the album’s conclusion, as the laid back pace chills the soul for the brain-melting elegance of the hyper-charged, electro-tinged romp Drain.

A strange album for the intellectually curious, Fowl is out now on Denovali Records, a label that specializes in esoteric listening fare and the experimental end of the spectrum.

Print ed: 07/11


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