Do Make Say Think ready their performances for situations outside the realm of normal listening. There are numerous songs over the ten minute mark. As such, most of their records offer a subtle, slow beckoning into the cabins, basements, and general cold-weather-avoidance locations that happen to double as a DMST studio. Their very first song with lyrics, ‘A With Living’, from their 2007 album You, You’re A History In Rust, squeaks by with quiet drums and scattered acoustic strums for several minutes before coalescing into anything resembling a head or chorus. Like a creepy, yet interesting childhood neighbor whose parents listened to Blue Oyster Cult, the band say “you’re welcome to come join us if you like.”
Ten years ago, You, You’re a History in Rust did exactly this with its production (not unlike many other Canadian mainstays like Stars, Arcade Fire and, most certainly, Godspeed You! Black Emperor). It was a record that extended Montreal’s penchant for churning out mesmerizing indie jazz performances over to Toronto. The drums and arrangements sound perfect. A huge list of friends show up to play horns and pianos. The dynamism in opening track ‘Bound to be That Way’ alone has more controlled fire than most bands put on a whole record. It’s not that DMST’s previous output didn’t share these qualities, it’s that it culminated here. The record has aged wonderfully.
DMST’s first new album since 2009, Stubborn Persistent Illusions, is excellent in a different way. Gone are the rustic looking, red wine-tasting moments of their 00s output. This is music for nature. No longer are DMST saying “Want to join us for something cool?” It’s now “Can you believe all the cool stuff out there!?”
A travel companion that mostly operates during the day (‘Horripilation’ is decidedly nocturnal), Illusions is a meditative journey. Its melodies are rapid fire, yet simple. Sibling tracks ‘Bound’ and ‘And Boundless’ represent an extending skyline you’d see in a nature film, whereas their climaxes are the part where there’s an epic chase between predator and prey. The 12 minutes that the tracks share repeatedly return to gleeful one and five chords strums that not only are produced wonderfully, but show how the band aren’t beyond modest compositions.
Since the guitars utilize such digestible melodies, the drums perform most of the musical dialogue. This is mostly done with multiple kits. The exception is ‘War on Torpor’, the grandest album opener in DMST’s catalogue, and the origin of the biting synths on ‘And Boundless’. It sets fire to the notion of the band putting out another sleepy record. Absent is the jazzy nuance of David Mitchell and James Payment’s usual dual performance; instead we get at 120bpm attack that could be found on a Sonic Youth release. It’s perfect fodder for the shimmering guitars that glow like a reef underneath it all.
Instead of worming their way into your ears, Illusions’ melodies are transparent. Sometimes this is unaffecting, like on the indulgent noodling of ‘As Far As the Eye Can See’, but usually it works wonders. The main riff of ‘Horripilation’ first arrives as a rhythmic exercise. Slowly but surely, other guitars and picking patterns absorb the idea, inviting the drums to join in the syncopation instead of the other way around. Usually a repetitious trick on a 10-minute song is played into a massive crescendo, but here DMST keep the pattern reeled in. With each passing section, there’s an expansion and option on the original melody. As much as I love long, drawn-out crescendos, ‘Horripilation’ magically holds attention without pandering to my love for Swans and Godspeed’s louder output. I feel like clapping whenever it ends.
The curtain of nature’s boundlessness is peeled back for ‘Her Eyes on the Horizon’. Like sunlight coming in a thrown-open window, the track juxtaposes a blast beat with a harmonious arrangement that has enough guitar and violin overdubs at the end to constitute an orchestra. And that’s really what this band feels like. They’re a well-insulated arsenal of sound.
With no lyrical content to distract from the themes, it’s just as hard to throw shade on Stubborn Persistent llusions as it is any other DMST record. So we’ll just skip it. This record reduces you to an infantile perception of the world around you. As a baby will be distracted if you keep its eyes absorbing new information, this record operates on ears. Just like there’s a music to the way certain visuals come together in a piece of art, there’s a visual component to the intricacies of the production on this record. Even if you can’t picture a landscape as complex as the arrangement of ‘War on Torpor’, you can at least catch a glimpse of some of the things in the foreground. The artwork functions this way as well, with its animal subjects moving about in a purgatory of crisp imagery. If you find yourself not seeing the whole picture, there’s plenty the band do to help you along the way.