Raleigh: ‘Sun Grenades & Grenadine Skies’
The clouds had long since moved beyond the point of weeping; torrential downfall was in the forecast on a dark Wednesday night in June. Summer was a long ways off in Calgary, temperatures usually don’t peak until mid-August, and this particular evening was cold and miserable. I grimaced at the streetlight, Good lord, I mused, Hurry up and change.. we skipped over the gutter rivers and made our way towards District.
It was a predictable scene, small, cramped, dark walls haphazardly donned with aging memorabilia and tattooed waitresses working just hard enough to look lackadaisical, at best. It was the kind of place that was cool before it was trendy, punk-rock bingo and wing nights were a weekly mainstay, drawing crowds with various degrees of beardedness. Beer was on tap and on the cheap, and since we were a few hours early we grabbed a couple and meandered to the very front of the stage. No pushing and shoving necessary, the bands hadn’t even started and half of the night’s attendees hadn’t even gotten off work.
“Unknown Mortal Orchestra w/ Raleigh and guests”
I was a big UMO fan, and the opportunity to see a band I liked from only a few inches away was too good to be true. It was about 8 o’clock, and we had all the time and beer in the world to keep us company until the big act. The first band was a trio of surfer bros, followed by Calgary mainstay Devonian Gardens. After a few pints and a couple hours of heavy swaying, I realized I might’ve overestimated my ability to stand in one place and drink all night. I was awash with weariness and three hours had passed when Raleigh took the stage.
A wise man once told me “Always watch the opening acts”.
I’m not sure if it was the beer or the high-volume bubble machine, but something magical happened that evening. Raleigh’s symphonic lullabies had me in a stupor. Their drug was more powerful than beer, and I instantly fell in love. Even after Unknown Mortal Orchestra wrapped up the evening, Raleigh’s melodic brilliance was echoing in my head on the train ride home. It was a flood of emotion, and that night the rain didn’t stop. In fact, it didn’t stop Thursday either. And the result was the single most catastrophic flood in the history of Southern Alberta.
Many months later at the Calgary Folk Fest, I had a brief run-in with Raleigh at the beer gardens. I told them I was at their concert back in June before the flood, and after guitarist/vocalist Brock Geiger touted something along the lines of UMO being incredible, I sheepishly mentioned they were my favorite act of the evening. I’m not sure how seriously they took my compliments, especially since I followed it up with a cheesy picture request (see below). However, I was genuinely blown away by their eclectic performance. Brock told me about an upcoming album release, and I made sure to keep my ears to ever-shifting ground of social media.
Tuesday saw the release of Raleigh’s sophomore album, ‘Sun Grenades & Grenadine Skies’, and over the past few days i’ve been wrapping my head around their immersive sound. Or rather, their immersive sound has been wrapping itself around me.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Raleigh-Sun-Grenades-Grenadine-Skies-01-Helios.mp3|titles=Raleigh – Helios]
Raleigh – Helios
The album begins with “Helios”, and the first few moments are akin to the sun leaking in through an abandoned and overgrown greenhouse. Piano keys roll like floral wallpaper, and fuzzed guitars wake the plants from slumber. Clea Anaïs’ voice is soft and distant, a stark contrast to Geiger’s lead-laying guitar-work. He drops cords like red bricks, smashing against the grass-cracked cement floor with fervor, while Clea’s lush subtlety brushes the weariness from our minds. It’s a peculiar blend, and as the song unfolds the ying-yang yo-yo-ing between Anaïs and Geiger subsides; time seems to pass, the world turns, and they become whole. Raleigh is at their strongest when they are harmonious, their tones meld beautifully together and one can’t help but feel that they are at their most complete. The song unfurls as time signatures dance melodically. The effect is quite introspective, as horns signify the coming end. There’s an optimism in the final few moments, a brief promise of tomorrow’s sun.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Raleigh-Sun-Grenades-Grenadine-Skies-02-Inside-Lines.mp3|titles=Raleigh – Inside Lines]
Raleigh – Inside Lines
“Inside Lines” picks up on everything beautiful with “Helios” and runs with it. It’s a high-energy frolic, but don’t be fooled. An expertly crafted fall awaits, a dark forest, uncertainty. Geiger tries lulling us asleep menacingly, a clever trick, and the next few moments are sheer fear. Anaïs’ cello sends shivers down the spine, and as the tension mounts we are lifted from the mist. Cautious comfort, has the storm passed? The heart pounds as the harmonious duo lifts us to the clouds once more, only to set us back down gently into the rolling hills. We are left where we started, the sun ablaze on the horizon. It’s a roller coaster of emotions, and it couldn’t possibly personify a contemporary day any better, it’s stressors and reliefs, if it tried. At the end of the night, we’re blessed to be home where it all began. “Inside Lines” is undoubtedly, one of my favorite songs on the album.
“Carebear” has a no-look-back attitude. A true sidewalk slapper, an upbeat nursery rhyme, and a testament to Raleigh’s versatility. Lyrically, Anaïs and Geiger sound as if they’re reading free-form poetry. The meanings aren’t easy to grasp, but the meanings are only comprehensible insofar as they are connected with the sounds. “Carebear” starts out as a walk, is brought to a run through Matt Doherty’s percussions, and towards the end completely vanishes. “Fresco” swallows the lead-in and ties us up with masterful string-work. It’s caught in a spiderweb of sound, only we’re the spider. There’s some truly beautiful instrumental work at play, and “Fresco” is Geiger’s first opportunity on the album to reveal to us his perspective. It’s haunting, certainly, but unlike the panic of “Inside Lines”, there is no fear. The bright moonlight leaves “Fresco” aglow in its own contemplation, and five minutes seem to melt away.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Raleigh-Sun-Grenades-Grenadine-Skies-05-Still-Light.mp3|titles=Raleigh – Still Light]
Raleigh – Still Light
In a rare show of emotion and clarity, “Still light” is a framed reflection. If “Carebear” was a brisk walk uphill, “Still light” is an evening staring out the window. The pace is never quite slow enough to lose our attention, and drifts along like fleeting thought. There’s a certain hopeless romanticism in Raleigh’s lyrical composition, a potential that waxes and wanes as signatures blend and change. “Pen That” stirs somewhere deep, and low basslines add a palpable element to Anaïs’ storytelling. The emotional buildup is akin to Wye Oak’s rushing waves of sonic sound, yet right at the boiling point Clea’s near-lethargic energy skips a beat, bewitches, and becomes a folklore colloquialism. She casts a powerful spell.
[audio:http://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Raleigh-Sun-Grenades-Grenadine-Skies-07-Astray.mp3|titles=Raleigh – Astray]
Raleigh – Astray
The emotion continues to flow in “Astray”, Geiger’s introspection becomes raw at the 45-second mark, “Looks like I messed up this one”.. it’s an intimate aside. His inner monologue continues like broken thought, a humble defeat, and certainly not the first. “Astray” is that cigarette you shouldn’t be having. A smokescreen of critical insecurity. Geiger shines his brightest in these moments of vulnerability. It’s Raleigh’s fullest song, not in the sense of “Helios” and “Inside Lines” as emotional hills and valleys, “Astray”s strength lies in it’s utter completeness in sound, and unlike previous efforts, we feel wholly in one place at one time. Taken with “Still Light”, we hear Raleigh at their most expertly crafted, it’s red-raw emotion, an exercise in easy-listening bliss.
As the album shifts to the later songs, the sounds of “China Flowers” are a familiar trip. Once again, the technical brilliance of Raleigh’s instrumentals becomes the main focus. The composition drips with talent, and the opportunity for Anaïs and Geiger to lay some heavy notes is all too perfect. “China Flowers” is a rock song at its core. “Puritan” follows, only to lead us down the rabbit hole. It’s a bizarre sensory experience, an amalgam of noise and static, truly lost in space. The destination is unclear, and our time of arrival is completely skewed. The last few moments are a breakneck flurry, with horns rampantly fading into the distance while the sounds of an incoming transmission materialize. “Puritan” is a strange trip, undoubtedly, and the most experimental song of the bunch.
There’s no telling how many days have passed as “Sun Grenades…” begins to come to a close. “Ostinato” is the march back home. The cautious optimism and nervous moments are replaced with certainty. Anaïs shines with confidence as she leads the way. It’s a carefree beginning to the end, a wry smirk of achievement, capped off with a wave goodbye. We’re reminded of “Carebear”s no-look-back attitude, only “Ostinato” subsitutes whirlwind speed with Anaïs’ highest and most vibrant display of poise.
“Sun Grenades & Grenadine Skies” ends much in the same way it began with “Helios”. Piano’s bounce us back and forth playfully, while our lead singers trade soliloquies to and fro. For a moment, the journey seems to come to an abrupt stop. But the pace only slows to cue the climax and dramatic grand finale. “It Will Rise” finishes quite exquisitely. It brings “Sun Grenades” full circle, and we’re once again assured the promise of sunrise to the tune of Raleigh’s vocal dichotomy. All is connected, as the story ends it also begins, and Raleigh leaves us feeling like we just woke up from a lengthy lucid fantasy into their imagination.
Pick up your copy of ‘Sun Grenades & Grenadine Skies’, available now through Raleigh’s bandcamp page and show them some love on Facebook.
Although we made some songs available for promotional purposes, the album truly merits a full listen. One of Raleigh’s strong points with “Sun Grenades…” is how fleshed out the album is as a whole. We’re only providing you with the partial effect at best, so support them if you can