Lesbian Horses

Cam’s Album Reviews #22: Brown Shark, Red Lion- Eksi Ekso (2011)

                If it has not already been made readily apparent by past posts, I am a huge fan of the stable of Mylene Sheath bands. Not only do I love and respect that label tremendously for its customer service, excellent pre-order deals, and apparent commitment to the bands on the label, but an inordinate number of my favorite post-rock bands and records have Sheath productions. Eksi Ekso is one of the stranger bands on the label, though recently it appears that the label is branching further into black metal territory with its most recent signings. The interesting thing about Eksi Ekso is that while I know that they are definitely different, I would have a hard time actually staying what genre of music they play on Brown Shark, Red Lion, the band’s second offering released in Spring of 2010.

                Sadly, like so often seems to be the case the CD is a product of at least some sort of creative strife within the band after 2008’s I Am Your Bastard Wings.  Vocalist Nate Shumaker split from the group and went on to form the band Lavinia (also on the Sheath) where he enjoys the primary vocal duties.  That left Tom Korkidis as the lead vocalist, though the band does invite numerous guest musicians and vocalists to take part in Brown Shark, Red Lion.  Korkidis’s voice ranges from anywhere to excellent to meh for me, the lyrics of the album dense and somewhat obtuse though at times the band writes some catchy tunes. “Traitor, Traitor” is one such example, even though it’s a somewhat somber song it’s well-crafted and always seems to stick in my head.

                “Traitor, Traitor” is really the song to look to when attempting to discern exactly what Eksi Ekso is seeking to do with this album. In some respects they write pop-songs, albeit with much more, shall we say, intellectual content than the average Katy Perry song. However, they certainly aren’t a pop band, the mixture of different instruments such as piano and violin together with Alex Mihm’s drumming and Sean Will’s bass offer extremely complex arrangements that speak of the band’s post-rockish origins. What it comes down to is that trying to shoehorn the band into one particular genre is useless, so I will abandon that enterprise and get back to describing the music.

                As I said before, the music is catchy but somber. Korkidis is often accompanied by female vocalists to great effects most notably on “Carte de Viste” and “Bellows to Brass Lens”, the latter of which is essentially a ballad featuring some extremely precise drumming on the part of Mihm. The album is conceptually about a scientist that was persecuted for his beliefs in a draconian, religiously dominated Medieval or Renaissance society, or at least that’s what I think I read at some point. I can certainly see the theme of religion v. science in many of the lyrics, for instance in “Traitor, Traitor” Korkidis sings, “If either fails/ we could see lives of blessed squalor/ if one prevails/ we could be right as mindless gluttons.”  I can only assume this stanza to be about the struggle between rationality and faith and the benefits and drawbacks to society choosing one over the other. In the next line, he argues that we must insist on the stalemate in order to preserve the benefits of both. Certainly an interesting concept, one does not often think that a struggle needs to continue rather than be resolved.  Brown Shark, Red Lion is lyrically and musically thought provoking, of that there is no doubt.

                You will find yourself doing a lot of thinking during the middle stretch of this album, because of the slow-burning nature of the music. I love “Traitor, Traitor”, “Bellow to Brass Lens”, and “14 For 3” but by the time “West of Rize” rolls around I can’t help but wish the band began to play with a little more urgency. “A Dead Light” offers antiquated electronics and an interesting vocal arrangement to accompany the percussion but again lacks any sense of urgency even with the end of the album in sight. This is a criticism for sure, but I contradictorily (sue me) love the album for it. It’s an album I listen to when I’m feeling a slight melancholy or feel particularly pensive when I’m in bed before class the next day. The pace tends to be more soothing than annoying when in this mood.

                There are parts of Brown Shark, Red Lion where I miss the somewhat more post-rock influenced sound of I Am Your Bastard Wings but BS, RL is the sound of experienced and professional musicians at the top of their game. It’s conglomeration of styles is extremely appealing and I particularly enjoy the timeless quality of the music, I could imagine this album coming out in the 60’s or 70’s, or 80’s or whenever. It’s a difficult feeling to explain but I feel like this album truly transcends genre and in today’s age of such extreme multitude of genre labels, this is truly an extraordinary accomplishment.

P.S. The CD comes with a beautiful 28-page booklet, so congratulations to the Mylene Sheath for once again proving to be the best label around.

Angelic little devils/As earthbound sparks, their tombs/ Developed defections/ You stumble onto truths/”- Kills of the Flood Tide

Top 3:

1.       Black Sea Accomplice

2.       Traitor, Traitor

3.       Bellows to Brass Lens