Imagine a long, straight stretch of desert highway in the dead of nighttime. All is quiet. There’s no cars for miles and miles away, and you’re so far from light pollution that every speck of illumination is visible. You find yourself staring into an endless vacuum that’s equal parts cold and featureless, yet dazzling and breathtaking.
Or imagine instead outstretched lengths of flat, featureless tundra. Untold hills, valleys, and meadows covered in snow, the darkness of night also illuminated by long stretches of glacial nothing. Overhead an aurora transforms the sky into a panoply of swirling colors.
Or again, imagine the bottom of the sea. Same story as before. All around you is inkiness and murkiness, and an unfeeling void bereft of detail. All of a sudden there comes the neon glow of fluorescent coral. Out of the darkness arrives yet another exhibit of stunning natural wonder, transforming the eerie blackness surrounding you into something mystical and otherworldly.
Ultimately you’re awash with feelings of euphoria, and peace towards the universe.
Of course, these are scenarios that one can go their entire lives without ever witnessing, but a facsimile of such events immediately popped into my mind as I listened to Pray For Sound‘s latest studio full-length. Waiting Room marks a sharp, but not unfathomable left turn for the Boston-area instrumental rock quintet. Pray For Sound’s mission statement; to translate songwriter Bruce Malley‘s emotional experiences into music, has left the band unafraid of experimentation (Their previous releases have dabbled in realms of post-rock, shoegaze, and progressive metal.) but have always kept their loud, distorted rock influences right in front.
Waiting Room strips all of it away, trading a typical drum/bass rhythm section dynamic in for sparse synths, spacious ambience, droning textures, and ethereal pianos, all bolstering guitars more meant to express introspective wonder rather than to rock out. (Though percussion does make an occasional appearance, it’s frequently there to evoke an atmosphere more than keep a beat.) It’s decidedly more Sigur Rós than Mogwai. It’s Moby’s “God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters” extended to album-length. It’s one of Pray For Sound’s more understated and humble efforts. And it’s a sound that fits them like a glove.
Across nearly 42 minutes, Waiting Room runs a gamut of moods and emotions, and a wide array of beautiful sounds without so much as a syllable uttered. From the whirling, frozen soundscapes of “Lusitania”, to the lush, almost orchestral “As Above, So Below”, to the hopelessly lonely, echoing guitars of “Empty Spaces.” Whether this album is destined to be the neglected black sheep of Pray For Sound’s discography remains to be seen, but to hell with those who can’t look past its unorthodox setup. Waiting Room is an elegant and grandiose album, and an unparalleled gem of New England post-rock.