Album Reviews

A Grave With No Name – Wooden Mask


When the first guitar strum on ‘Sword’, the opening track on A Grave With No Name’s latest LP Wooden Mask, cuts through the atmospheric clinking and clattering, it’s clear that we’re in Phil Elverum territory. Alexander Shields, the man behind the Grave moniker, has his sights firmly set on picking up from where The Microphones’ The Gloaming, Part 2 left off. Shields’ output is based on these eerie slices of folk music infused with ambient whispers and these twinges of aggressive, electric and electronic instruments creeping around the edges of the aural plain. Although it never manages to invigorate or inspire in the way its influences have, it’s still an interesting little collection.

One of Wooden Mask’s best features is how unified it feels. It’s a piece that opts to be a single cohesive object rather than just a collection of songs and is better for it. This freedom enables him to play around with the music and eschews your expectation at more than a few points. Take, for example, ‘Shrine’, an early album nugget. It has no discernible melody, seems to be completely directionless and could very easily be viewed as filler as the only instrumentation are these aimless drum fills and guitar strums. Yet when viewed as part of the wider whole, it contributes to this sombre and desolate mood that lends the whole record a real charm. The solemn tone is palpable as songs like ‘Pirouette’ with its arpeggiated guitar and morbid, foreboding strings conjuring this overbearing sensation or ‘Nest’ which gently lulls you into this false sense of comfort with its music as the lyrics tell this tale of the flight of starlings and acceptance of mortality. It’s haunting and quite beautiful stuff.

While it does work better as a single piece, there are moments which are undeniably stronger than their contemporaries. They all still fit within the context of the album and what it wants to achieve, but as individual moments they elevate the record. These are instances like the violin and guitar on “Wedding Dress” which feel so bleak, or the bass on “Mist” and “House” which are these mini-behemoths which ground the music. These points give the album a fresh blast of life every time but unfortunately, they highlight how often the album does lose its way.

There is an unmistakable quality to a sizeable portion of Wooden Mask, but much of it is lacking and it fails to give itself an identity beyond it’s initial folksy desolation. Alexander’s voice, which sounds as though someone wounded Oppenheimer’s Shaun Robinson, is striking and has this vulnerability that adds a great deal to the environment. But his voice is limited and as the album goes on, this strain really starts to show. While he compensates for this by giving time to instrumental passages such as “Black Sage 2”, it brings to the light the fact that the album is stretched too far. The final third passes by without making much of an impression and there are certain motifs that rear their head too many times for comfort.  There’s a lot here to enjoy, but you wish there was a something grander. Will Murphy

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