It has been a year of rediscovery for me, and Labradford ranks as one 2011’s two most breathtaking re-unearthings.* Prior to giving them another listen, I’d categorized them in the same mental box I put Jessamine, Third Eye Foundation, Quickspace, Cul de Sac, and so on:† servicable, moody, and occasionally (but not consistently) fascinating. I thought I appreciated them, and I listened to them on occasion, but I never really fell in love with anything I heard. I would visit and revisit Labradford’s Mi Media Naranja perhaps yearly, find its spaghetti Western-tinged bleakness arresting at times and overly mannered at others, and then forget about it. But that staid, prim respect I paid Labradford is no more, and I have their self-titled album to thank for that.
To paint it with an extremely broad brush (more of a roller, really), Labradford’s career is a progression from the deliberately rough to the finely burnished. There were variations and gradations within and among albums that bucked this trend, but again, by and large, that’s how their career worked. And Labradford caught them right in the middle of this transition, presenting the late, great band in a particularly versatile and varied light.
Now, I mentioned Labradford’s ever-evolving career arc, but there are more constants between records than there are differences. These include a masterful sense of pacing as deliberate as it was inexorable, a deep and abiding affinity for particularly dust-blown Spaghetti Western guitars, and a resolutely nocturnal atmosphere. And when I say “nocturnal,” I mean it as much as I’ve ever meant that used and abused word and then some. This stuff is dark, begging to accompany a solo behind-the-wheel nighttime exploration, wan headlamps vainly casting their guttering arcs into the monolithic inky void, marking time against some serious internal thought processes hashing themselves out. Car washing music this is most certainly not.
The mood on Labradford ranges from the sinister nocturnal menace of “Midrange” to the lovelorn nocturnal dissipation of “Pico” to the stately nocturnal melancholy of “Lake Speed,” but Labradford is hardly monochromatic. Rather, the band mines the fine gradations of nighttime introspection as good as anyone, assembling an aural case study examining the subtleties of each shade of black. The result is an engrossing, hypnotic exploration of an already-preoccupying set of emotions.
Don’t forget to turn off the lights:
*The other being rediscovering Zelienople. It was truly a year of stumbling across forgotten gems. Also, I understand that there are still almost two months left in 2011, but my appreciation for these bands has been deep, long, abiding, and consistent, and unless I happen across something in these final 100 days that, I don’t know, fundamentally alters my socioeconomic beliefs or makes me want to get like facial tattoos, I feel comfortable sticking with the asterisk’d statement above.
†I really could go on, but that’s the point: Labradford was another member of a perfectly fine but otherwise undistinguished crowd of dark, textural post-rockers.