Chalk up another release to the seemingly unending output of Grails and their various members. After two full-lengths from the band in ’08, Take Refuge In Clean Living and Doomsdayer’s Holiday, as well as a release from Holy Sons (a project of Emil Amos), Zak Riles has released his first instrumental record. A busy year, to be sure.
Opening with the unexpectedly twangy “Pacific Siren,” which seems more indebted to bluegrass than the heady post-metal sound his day job usually requires, the self-titled reveals a level of musicianship from Riles that, while expected, is still surprising. All the heavy, atmospheric work of Grails contrasts forcefully with the more uptempo work here, yet does feel like the product of a like mind once the opening track ends.
As the album moves on, Riles trades in the acoustic guitar mostly for the oud and saz, instantly giving the twang an oriental setting, and accompanying lead instruments in the form of vibraphone, violin and viola, and harpsichord from guest musicians (including Grails’ William Slater) contribute to a musical spaciousness more fitting Riles’ main work. The level of songwriting doesn’t drop off, however, and the inclusion of electric guitar textures adds a depth to the recording that borders on transcendental.
After “Before The Refuge,” the last of four purely oriental tracks that play like ballads to harmonic minor and resonance, Riles moves back to a more Americana feel with his regular old acoustic for “Slack Key” and “Chloe,” shifting like a chameleon into a more bluegrass/country aesthetic, but retaining some of the oriental textures to the charming closer, which would be saccharine if it didn’t work so well.