28 Jan 2023

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Desbot - Album Review: Pass of Change

02 Nov 2022 // A review by Nicholas Clark

Desbot is made up of Maurice Beckett (bass), from Napier’s post rock legends, Jakob. He is joined by Nick Blow (keyboards) and Tom Pierard (drums). The band is firmly post-rock, the type that is better on headphones and who no doubt sound stunning when live. There are subtleties noticeable only on repeat listens, (like samples, such as an alarm that make a quick appearance on Pass of Change), but the clarity of the different layers allowing the instruments and their parts to be admired is what I really enjoyed on this collection.

Title track Pass of Change isn’t quite the slow builder I was expecting. Almost immediately the listener is greeted with an entirely new sonic palette than most modern rock or post-rock usually offer. The lack of guitar opens up the frequencies for the drumkit to really shine. The drum parts here are forceful yet simple, (except for one jaw dropping fill), and the recording is clear, crisp and balanced. Between the rumbling, distorted bass and dizzying, ethereal notes of the keyboards, the drums are able to be heard without the usual competition from the din of a distorted guitar competing in the same frequency range.

The song begins with a steady and tension filled section, before an absolutely thunderous and emotional chorus sweeps us off our feet. The instruments lock in around this part, playing the chord sequence just enough times for the listener to really enjoy the depth and complexity of the part, never outstaying it’s welcome. Then the band moves into a slow outro, filled with clanging metallic notes and fuzzy sonic howls which slowly fade over a minute – and all of it is gorgeous.

The structure is linear, and parts are repetitive only in their individual parts, but nothing is ever returned to, although the riffs have elements in common as the track continues. The song is a journey. The emotional energy is tense at the beginning, but somehow calm despite the brutal tones – never frantic, always controlled. The high melodies sitting atop (even when they blend with what sounds like warning sounds) somehow balance the subsonic rumbles and it all comes together beautifully in the stunning chorus at the middle of the song.

What impresses me most is of course the incredible emotional weight of the piece without a single word being spoken, unlike much post-rock like Godspeed You Black Emperor! or Mogwai, who often utilise samples to give some context. Without anything other than the rather ambiguous song title, the audience comes to their own conclusions and associations with such a piece. Personally, what I took from it after repeat listens is the unstoppable force of nature and the ephemeral nature of life. The passage of time. There is sadness present, but ultimately an acceptance of this force, perhaps a respect reached and an equilibrium restored. The song might well be about life itself and the stages we inhabit as individuals on this path.

A desbot, according to current internet slang, is someone who sits at his computer at night, trolling political forums and spamming posts with liberal ideals and slogans. It seems like a playfully close association to both a political despot and an internet bot, but I don’t know the etymology. Either way, the name hits me as something both clever with complex associations, but ultimately a simple six letter word – a little like the band which can creep and burble away at one point with sophistication, then charge forward with a direct, straight forward boldness. Of course, it is the movement of the sections and their context with one another that often gives post-rock its epic sound, and this is no exception. The listener is rewarded for waiting. At four and a half minutes we have come on a trip with an instrumental band, one that might span and be inspired by a lifetime.

I listened to this song first, but upon repeat listens, its placement in the context of the full album is even better. Moonlit Forest starts the album off and has an 80’s soundtrack feel to it (like a few other songs to follow), and gorgeous harmonies that come in half way through preparing the listener for the soundscapes to come.

Crying Eyes could be another single. It's got a moody feel that separates it from much of the rest of the record which sounds joyous. Wah baby bass (I hope a Dunlop Cry Baby Wah) expresses itself throughout the song. As with other songs, the instruments fall away to allow one player to shine, before they join in together again. There is a respect you feel each band member has for the other. The song ends in a heavy syncopated rhythm reminding the listener what the band is capable of. Next song, Where I Stand is anthemic, symphonic, rich and deep. Another contender for a single.

No Response or Benefit takes a little to get going, but unlike most ambient tracks on this collection, the wait is not really worth it. Ambient layers of distorted bass (or perhaps they are synths) buzz around a sampled rhythm that sounds influenced by world-beat, but the track is merely an experimental segue. As the bell like tones fade out, I feel a little disappointed the song didn’t really go anywhere. I was hoping real drums to enter or a riff to break up the ambience. If it wasn’t on an album of instrumental numbers, this wouldn’t have applied.

Eclipsed has more sampled beats and continues an 80’s soundtrack feel to an unwritten movie or maybe an immersive game. Arpeggiated chords support a rock solid bass groove. The keys, played like a distorted organ take the place of a slightly out of control guitar solo break.

Youth might sound more similar to Jakob fans, albeit with gorgeous keyboard pads that swirl melodically around the bass and drums. There are moments of heaviness but somehow the cliches of rock are sidestepped. The song kicks up into a triple feel before the effects take over for a climax that then reveals the keys joyfully playing beneath. It's a trick the band does well: leading up to a crescendo and then having one or two instruments fall away. This song leads into Pass of Change, making two of the heaviest songs on the album sit side-by-side.

Following the title track is All of Us Together which begins with echoed samples before a complex drum beat reassembles the distorted noises into a pattern. The sound here is more difficult to listen to, no doubt purposefully. Eventually a type of epic chorus joins the heavily effected patch on the keys into a song structure, but the track refuses to become the joyful pattern of notes so many of the other tracks include. It's a little more difficult to get into but also hard to put your finger on what makes it convoluted – perhaps the lack of clarity in the keys with so many effects. The placement of the song in the sequence is wise, nonetheless.

The Wind and Rain has a super low tuning that sounds like it could have come off a Deftones album. The resulting sound is nearly unearthly despite the very wordy name. The keys play against the powerful, sad riff with melodic, modal lines that takes the listener somewhere else entirely. My favourite track in the collection and great way to finish this album.

Pass of Change, (the album) is many things; heavy, beautiful, haunting, simple, complex. Most of all it is (mostly) accessible and enjoyable to both post-rock fans and those new to the genre. There is no avant-garde difficulty to overcome, no noise to wade through or a section that lingers too long. Not a single song even weighs in at over five and a half minutes, and as a post-rock enthusiast I am perplexed at how the band takes the listener on such journeys with such (relatively) short songs. It is testament to the musicians that they are capable of such magic.

A resonant album for our times.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )

About Desbot

Desbot is a post-rock side project from Maurice Beckett (Jakob), Nick Blow (Come to Dolly) and Tom Pierard (Kingfischer).

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Desbot


Pass of Change
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Occult Tapes
Year: 2020
Type: EP

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