Review: Do Make Say Think – “Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn”

Ask Jesus Christ, Euclid, or John Ritter and they’ll tell you: there’s something intrinsically welcoming and powerful about the number three. The Canadian post-rock ensemble Do Make Say Think have clearly figured this out and toy with the idea of the trinity to tremendous effect on the latest full-length, Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, due out October 6. The record is composed of three separate movements split three different ways, each of which may or may not refer to the record’s cryptic title. The LP version of the new release is pressed to three sides of vinyl. And guess how many times you’ll find the word “Hooray” in the record’s closing track?

Do Make Say Think seems to fully utilize the potential of such patterns instead of using them as a gimmick, crafting music that builds upon itself — and forces its way into your memory — in ways both readily apparent and completely obscure. Guitar lines that weave through one track become mutated and inverted, seemingly turning up elsewhere. Similar production tricks — for example, the strange, alien pulse that begins the record — try on different masks and are scattered throughout the proceedings. Song structures wade into unfamiliar territories and, unexpectedly, turn around and seem to reference the work that precede them.

Heard once, the record is breathtaking for its emotional qualities. Heard twice, it begins to sound more and more like a brilliantly crafted classical chamber piece, with themes holding each of the hymns up to the same illuminating light.

That being said, the band hardly lets its ambitious songwriting get in the way of its delivery. Quite the contrary, some of the best tracks are the ones where Do Make Say Think delivers its sentiments on a gut level. And, of those, there are many: the pummeling emo tendencies — and the tender underbelly — of the incredible “Horns of a Rabbit,” the fragile acoustics that initiate the triumphant, album-closing “Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!,” the locked guitar grooves of “Fredericia” and “Auberge Le Mouton Noir.”

The band shares the epic songwriting abilities of Constellation label-mates Godspeed You Black Emperor! but is far removed from being a carbon copy of that band. For every time DMST tosses out a spine-tingling or thunderous crescendo, the musician s reveal other disparate elements, such as toned-down reflections with crystalline guitars and horns (“107 Reasons Why”), smoky, late-night jazz exercises (“Ontario Plates”), or clever tabletop cut-ups (the closing notes of “Horns of a Rabbit”).

While the tools used may mirror those of Canada’s favorite emperors, Do Make Say Think has more of an immediate and often less bombastic approach than does its peers. For lack of a better way to describe it, try to imagine a musical menage-a-trois between Godspeed You Black Emperor!, the sadly defunct A Minor Forest, and the post-everything outfit Tortoise. Now, add some of the ambitious and experimental leanings of Cheer Accident or Brise Glace and you have a decent point of reference. Only on less orchestrated pieces — like the transitional “It’s Gonna Rain” — does the band sound like a Godspeed You Black Emperor! peer and there they bear closest resemblance to the dark, spacey Set Fire to Flames.

Bottom line, this is not radio-ready music but it rewards the listener immensely for their patience: songs that initially seem engaging become enrapturing, sentiments that initially seem opaque become inviting, structures that initially seem daunting become enveloping. There isn’t a moment or a note wasted, and few people will hear a band any time soon that is able to pack so much scope and emotion into 52 minutes.

As “Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!” closes we hear a voice, slightly buried behind a repeating guitar figure, say, “Let’s play it again.” Well, why the hell not? – Delusions of Adequacy, Sept. 29, 2003

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