The fifth full-length from Do Make Say Think begins with a brief, minor-key modal piano and jazzy snare and cymbals intro that sounds an awful lot like an homage to Talk Talk's atmospheric masterpiece, Laughing Stock. You, You're a History in the Rust quickly veers from that intro into more familiar DMST terrain, but Mark Hollis and company's seminal record is an apropos touchstone for this Toronto collective's songs, which are built with similar emphasis on mood, texture, and dramatic ebb and flow. Like its excellent predecessor, Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn, Rust was recorded in DMST's favored remote haunts, and the old barns and cottages provide sympathetic ambience for the band's increasingly organic sound. Many of the themes seem plucked -- quite literally on the John Fahey-like "A Tender History in Rust" -- from the air, furtive patterns that appear like flickering shadows before they're given weight by the band's elegant horns, electric guitars, and two-drummer attack.
There's a suite-like nature to most of the songs, for which the opening track offers a blueprint of sorts. After its Talk Talk-like intro, "Bound to Be That Way" slowly emerges with an intricate riff which the band then takes through several wardrobe changes -- atmospheric keyboard washes, blaring horns, and guitar rave-ups -- before deconstructing the riff back into its elemental parts. The dynamic shifts are seamless and fully engaging, as the theme switches between acoustic folk, dubby weirdness, free music breakdowns, and transcendent Broken Social Scene fanfares (several DMST contributors are also part of the BSS battalion). "Herstory of Glory" takes a like-minded approach, though the subtle accent changes -- primarily vibes, marimba, and synth swells -- give it a droning Tortoise-like momentum. With seven core contributors and a host of guests, the band can also generate blunt-force power when it wants. The furiously paced "The Universe!" states its theme emphatically and rocks throughout like a lost instrumental track from Physical Graffiti, still leaving room for exploratory nuance with time signatures and tempos that shift at crucial junctures. "Executioner Blues" is equally explosive, the slow-burn build-up and gentle denouement framing its massive, guitar-army crescendo. Even when the band display their loose-limbed side, as they do on "You, You're Awesome," which begins with bare-bones blues guitar and morphs into a drunken waltz as the rest of the band joins in, the purposefully sloppy feel is buttressed by the melody's inherent dignity. You can say the same about virtually all of the songs on this record. Too often, instrumental rock sounds like a dry academic exercise or rote formula, but DMST delves into the emotional heart of the music as though to discover how and why it works, so melody never plays a subservient role.
There would seem to be few frontiers left for a band whose decade-long instrumental rock adventure has explored dub, drone, jazz, electronica and a host of other post-rock approaches, as well as the more organic/acoustic vibe of their recent fare. But since their records have never featured lyrics (voices, yes; lyrics, no), two tracks with actual words would seem to make for a radical switch in aesthetics. Not really, though. "A with Living," co-written with and sung by the Great Lake Swimmers' Tony Dekker and Toronto fixture Alex Lukashevsky, is most evocative of the BSS sound, but still shifts in and out of focus enough to offer the appearance of a traditional song without the rigid structure -- the gentle outro even features the disembodied voices of the Akron/Family clan doing their "oohs" and "ahs" thing. And stunning disc-ender "In Mind" features only a chorus-like refrain -- "When you die, you'll have to leave them behind/You should keep that in mind/When you keep that in mind, you'll find a love as big as the sky" -- raised heavenward on a procession of acoustic guitar, banjo, glockenspiel, electric guitar, synth noise and Beatles' horns, creating a crescendo that could be the poster song for transcendence. But with so many moments like this, it's almost unfair to single out just one, even if it puts the exclamation point on a brave, bold, and assured record from a band that gets better with each release.