Broad and dusky ambient vistas meet shuffling, shoe-gazey post-rock beats on Caul’s new release, The Long Dust. Caul (aka Brett Smith) brings a cinematic sense to his tracks, everything moving with a thoughtful slowness, the long, considered pace of deeply mulling something over. It’s like watching a series of long tracking shots, the camera panning and pulling back to reveal a lone figure. It’s moody and a little brooding, a mindset that’s strongly presented from start to finish, but which never bogs by getting maudlin. That’s due in large part to the beats and the guitar, the way they ground the ambient side. The slump-shouldered drum beats and the lazy twang of the strings serve to amplify the emotional effect of the edge-of-giving-up synth pads. The post-rock framework makes it accessible, and infuses it with a recognizable energy. The ambient side is a thing all its own. Tending toward the low end of the scale, earthy notes grumble and sigh as they spread out to form a somewhat bleak landscape. In the moments where it exists on its own, the ambient aspect is deep and potent, with its own definite beauty. The mix, therefore, ramps it up. “Relic” nails it early on with garage-band drums and a spaghetti-Western guitar. The synth pads moan in the background as Smith casually turns up the catchiness. The last 30 seconds are given over, to great effect, to the synths. This moves us into my favorite track, “Anointing.” The drums clatter, a bit on the ungainly side, over crying pads and chords. It’s a bit stark, bordering on minimal for two minutes, and then–oh, my, how it explodes in a sudden burst of power-chord joy. “Veil of Sand” also works upward from a sparse start, the loneliness of the guitar and drum combo offset by an almost hopeful-sounding blend of high pads and chorals. Even so, it retains a solitary feel. “The Road” has a roll-the-credits solemnity to it. Watch the main character walk off, only partially defeated, into a heat-shimmer sunset, accompanied by a resonating acoustic guitar. Smith builds in more elements to heighten the feel. Once again the backbeat makes it catchy even as it keeps its head-down, alone-again tone. A keening voice sings the last few notes alone.
I’ve seen this disc described as dark ambient. It’s not. It’s heavy, certainly, but it’s a stones-in-your-pockets emotional heaviness. It’s painted not in cloying blacks but in chromatic greys. It dares to show a little hope here and there. What it is, is human. This is a very human disc. It is vulnerable and sad and alone, but it’s finding its inner strength and going on ahead anyway. It has a story to share, and it’s told very well. The Long Dust will ping your emotional core and find something in there to make you a little sad, a little pensive. That’s how and why it works so very well. Another superb offering from Caul.
Available from Malignant Records.