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Listening

Sterling, Sterling

Chicago’s Sterling is a maelstrom of wonderfully technical, instrumental rock. Oh my, a ‘maelstrom.’ Yes, that’s what I said. But, seriously, that’s no kidding around. Across eight untitled tracks and a wealth of soundscapes, Sterling develops a mood that is positively otherworldly and powerful. Hardly soothing, there’s a real edge to much of the music, and it often makes you imagine you’re about to fall clear over it. All with production qualities that will, if you’re listening to it on your stereo, will blow your speakers, or if you’re listening to it on headphones, well, we can’t be responsible.

And all with these gorgeous, equally soaring and off-kilter guitar lines that ride atop piano evocative of the headier moments on Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, it’s a strange mix that’s truly, magnificently effective. There’s not a moment on the whole album where there’s not something really and truly interesting going on, if you listen to it closely enough (or often enough, seeing as how I’ve happily listened to the whole of it about four times a day for the last two weeks). It’s music with details, and inspection proves that it’s meticulously crafted enough to deserve all this crappy, verbose praise. Nevertheless, it’s at once visceral, full of emotion. Imagine a Mogwai with a far darker, angrier side, a Godspeed You Black Emperor! with a grudge to settle. Proust under two-thousand words?

More and more, it’s hard to get excited about music like that. There’s a preconceived notion about what it’s going to be like: ‘Build, build, build, build, DISTORTION PEDAL! Then do the quiet part for a while. Repeat.’ Sterling is, however, hardly another in that long line of imitators. Their ingenuity and skill far surpass it being only that. Their songs, you may be surprised to learn, don’t follow any kind of set expectation. They often seem to veer into free-form, then just as quickly land someplace else you just wouldn’t believe.

At its core, it’s really indescribable. It’s adventurous, it’s exhilarating, it’s provoking. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from an album. It’s here, but I’m not sure I’ve been able to comprehend all of it just yet. But I’m going to keep trying. So far, I’m not really able to contain my anticipation for what I’ll find.

biopic

Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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