The promo shows up on December 21, 2012. Most of civilized society is mocking a few New Age kooks for their belief in a second beginning, their fear of Earth crashing into another planet, and some kind of nonsense about 10,000 orgasms. What none of us are saying, though, is that while the apocalypse half of apocalypse fever might not be contagious, the fever certainly is. In other words, it may not feel like the end of the world, but it definitely feels like it feels like the end.
Grandeur & Weakness scores the evening perfectly, even the part about this being Brad Rose’s farewell album as The North Sea. And the opening seconds feature a somewhat harsh synthesized squeal. The sound of all transmissions coming to an end? Or a message from dolphins in the upper atmosphere, thanking us for all the fish? Neither, actually.
Things are set into motion with the grinding, spooky, echoing “Peasants.” High register ascents, the sharp clatter of drums and a brief congregation sample keep it kinetic and relevant. But the real story is the audio mortar — no bricks, no tie-backs, just the connective mixture itself — which churns underneath all of this trimming. Not purely synth, not necessarily drone, not altogether noisy. Just a deft abstract thickness, antique in mood, palpably defiant and abandoned at once. (Rose cites Frantz Fanon’s anti-colonialism treatise The Wretched of the Earth as the primary inspiration for the album.) “Empty, Fragile Shell” is a similar composition, although the riffs and vocalizations are higher in definition, the percussion cyclical and rattling. Track sequence is crucial here, and Grandeur is immune to quick previews. But these two cuts are fair approximations of the whole: feedback, samples, currents or drums portioned out to critical mass, then wrapped together in mineral wool.
Don’t get too comfortable with being uncomfortable. Things take a sudden, tangible turn during “Intimidation Tactics,” where the lone, buzzing synthesizer is distinct and its chromatic melody is perfectly discernible. The machinery returns during the second act and an additional, somewhat agile keyboard lick shows up during the third. The struggle reaches its violent climax with “Violence Is a Cleansing Force” and Rose declares a cease-fire with “Colonized.” The former represents Grandeur at its most dissonant, noisy, and alt-triumphant, while the latter is an intentionally brief and eerily placid. The message is clear: the peace will not last.
The world did not end on December 21. Why would it have? Because Mayan stargazers saw something that modern astronomers couldn’t? As Brad Rose reminds us, the world has bigger problems than the tai chi crowd misreading some Pre-Columbian texts. Grandeur & Weakness is set for a January 2013 release, in a limited vinyl edition of 300, with digital download.