Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Artist of the Day: Giant Squid

Key Release: The Ichthyologist (2009)
With some bands, you know exactly what you're going to get each time out. They sit in your comfort zone and make you feel happy and at home. Then there's Giant Squid, San Francisco's most wonderfully bizarre progressive metal group. The band began as an indie-rock outfit with Monster in the Creek, hit us with their first full-length -- the contemplative, doomy Metridium Fields -- and then threw the playbook out the window on their stupefying follow-up, The Ichthyologist. Attempting to pin Giant Squid’s sound down is an exercise in futility, but much like its namesake, it’s generally dark, massive, and mysterious.

Despite some minor and major setbacks over the years -- including (but not limited to) their label folding, their promoter dying, and having to relocate to Texas and back -- Giant Squid has carved out a unique niche in the music world. Singer/guitarist Aaron Gregory is the band's driving force, as he carries out most lyrical and songwriting duties. His storytelling is perhaps the band's most fascinating attribute, as each song is a journey into a new and very convincing world. “Dead Man’s Fog," a ballad from their first EP, is a chilling first-person narrative about being lost at sea. Where many lyricists would use clumsy metaphors, Gregory implies the gravity of their situation though vivid imagery: “Our bow cannot be seen from where we stand on the stern; the men’s faces show their concern…this beacon’s light has burned for as long as I’ve known, but tonight the horn must bring is in, for the tower ceases to glow.” Light is a signal of hope – so what happens when even the light is gone? And if there is any sound less welcoming than a fog horn, I have yet to hear it. Indeed, Giant Squid have a rare and unsettling ability to use your own imagination to send a chill down your spine.

The band's other calling card is electric cellist and singer Jackie Perez-Gratz. A veteran of the scene who has worked with a number of forward-thinking bands such as Agalloch and Ludicra, she gives each song a spark by adding a menagerie of sounds and atmospheres with her mellifluous string accompaniments. Between Gregory and Perez-Gratz, no two songs sound the same on any album. For example, in crafting The Ichthyologist, Giant Squid gallivanted about between genres that should never have worked together: swamp-rock tinged revenge tale “Dead Man Slough” led into the morbid, bluesy rocker “Throwing A Donner Party at Sea”, followed by the half-dirge, half-duet “Sevengill”, which in turn gave way to the heartbreaking and dissonant “Mormon Island”, composed entirely of banjo, strings, and Jackie's haunting voice. The result was one of the most interesting and refreshing albums of the year. Sure, it was a lot to digest. Maybe “Sutterville”, with its stop-start rhythm and crazy jazz chords, took a while to warm up to. But what The Ichthyologist lacked in accessibility, it made up for with near-infinite replay value.

If you're looking for a band that you can rely on for inventive and thoughtful heavy music, look no further than Giant Squid. 2011's Cenotes EP (though, at 35 mintues, it's closer to an album) continued the band's sonic evolution, moving back towards a sludgy, dark sound, but infusing it with Middle-Eastern harmonies and showcasing the skills of new drummer Scott Sutton. With a new release promised for early next year, Giant Squid is a band on the rise who deserve far more attention than they've received. Pick up a copy of either The Ichthyologist or Cenotes on iTunes or their Bandcamp site and lick your chops, because you're in for a treat.

Giant Squid on Bandcamp
Giant Squid on Facebook

Also worth noting are Aaron Gregory's artistic exploits beyond music: he is a graphic novelist, marine naturalist, and exceptional artist.

AJ Gregory Art and Merch

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