Catacombe, Quidam – album review
Amy Wright reviews the latest offering from Portuguese fourpiece, Catacombe:
When hearing music that’s powerful and masterfully constructed – yet completely absent of lyrics – it is only natural to search through all the small clues in an attempt to find meaning. In the case of Portuguese post-rock band Catacombe you may be searching extra hard, as this quartet do instrumental in a way simultaneously more succinct and mysterious than many of their avant-rock contemporaries. Their third album Quidam plays especially well to this style – the title itself literally translating to “anonymous passerby” in the dead language of Latin. Yes, there is a story at play in this record, yes it ebbs and flows in a way reflective of our world and no, they don’t need identity or words to get in the way of this.
Beginning with a lost little lo-fi piano ballad, coupled with the sepia photograph of a girls face on the Vinyl cover, there is a definite anachronistic tone set from the first moments of Quidam. Opening track “Zenith” then introduces a warm guitar and carries onward in a fashion very typical of the post-rock format from build-up to crescendo to reflection but – having heard the record in its entirety – it is best to view this song more as an overture rather than an indicator of any lack of creativity. Catacombe are borrowers and re-inventors and this is clear in the epic 8-minute follow up “Ninho de Vespas” that carries us through an incredibly fast-paced movement of energy and mood.
Structure and flow of such precision is indicative of a band with strong leadership and so it comes with little surprise that Catacombe began as the solo home recordings of ‘frontman’ Pedro Sobast. But the contributions of bandmates Gil Cerqueira, Filipe Ferreira and Pedro Melo Alves are equally as commendable. The production of Quidam places each of the four classic rock instruments into their own sonic space and lets each develop the narrative separately and together, like four characters of a good book – with the subtlety and dynamics of the drums regularly playing some hero moments.
When comparing Catacombe to others within this language-free, international genre, it is hard not to look toward post-rock juggernauts Explosions In The Sky and find some interesting discrepancies when thinking of clues and storyline. Most notably, Explosions are famous for titling their works with long, comforting phrases like “The earth is not a cold dead place” or “All of a sudden I miss everyone”. In this way, the commercially break-through U.S. outfit labour an image to cast our wandering minds against as we calmly daydream through their 10-minute epics. In this way, they also espouse a very loveable, yet oh-so-American storyline of redemption. But Catacombe are different here as, with their music moving in and out of triumph and defeat, they bury their meaning in tombs beneath the ground. Resisting our desire for solid understanding, this Portuguese band stands out and instead chooses to offer something more resembling a movement of raw emotions. Through this, Quidam can be universally appreciated.
Bravely making music that is without ‘singles’, Catacombe’s thoughtfulness and ‘songs-within-songs’ are worth a second listen – and given how quickly (relatively quickly) the group move from one part to the next, it does not take very long to find yourself hearing the entire album several times through as a backdrop to your own anonymous Everyday Life. Working with only the basics of rock instrumentation, Quidam can also serve as a good introduction to their genre – sparing a pop-programmed listener from some of the lengthy indulgences of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Godbless you) but without sacrificing great dynamic range. Hopefully Catacombe will continue to develop their instrumental experimentation while still holding strong to the structural decisions and emotional core that make them distinctive.
Catacombe, Quidam album review by Amy Wright.