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Cocoon Machina Album CoverFor fans of: Porcupine Tree, Poets of the Fall, Birds of Tokyo, The Talking Heads, The Decemberists
 
Rating: 8/10
 
One of my absolute favorite discoveries as an, “active listener,” is a band with a bit of an identity crisis. Granted, there’s a negative connotation to the term, but in a musical sense this is not always an affliction. Songwriters with eclectic tastes will, by their very nature, craft material that exhibits many hues and sonic gradations. Enter Draw Me Stories, an Anglo-French quartet that describes their sound as standing astride the space between art-rock, folk and dance. That’s a pretty broad sphere of influence to cover, and the group manages to explore every inch of the genre crossovers on their recent release, Cocoon Machina.
 
This album represents a structural realignment for the band, or a bit of a creative re-birth as it were. The group began with a more folk-oriented sound when they released 2009’s The Sky and the Mirror. Flash forward to 2013, and the music has certainly taken on a different complexion despite their thematic roots staying firmly affixed to the folk landscape. The group has managed to enfold elements from an amazing array of genres, crafting material that is organically expansive and aurally diverse.
 
The record begins on a slow burn with the 7-minute opener, “Birdsong.” The track opens with tribal tom rolls and a roaming bassline, eventually incorporating ethereal electric arpeggios that give way to the wafting vocal melody. The group is incredibly skilled at building a dynamic by subtly introducing elements to swell the song into choruses, then delicately extracting them to descend back to the verses. Punctuated acoustic strums merge with percussive elements and electronic pads to build tension as the lyrical content adopts a repetitive, entrancing quality before drifting into conclusion.
 
I’ll remind you, that was simply the opening song of the album.
 

 
The tonal quality, the rhythmic orchestration and the instrumental complexity undulate dynamically from track to track, presenting different facets of the group to the listener while helping the narrative of the record to unfold. The points aren’t belabored; sounds are allowed to naturally exist in the space of the songwriting.
 
Resonance plays a crucial role in creating the overall arc of the record. The onset of driving rhythms feels all the more urgent for the ease of the preceding tempos. The distortion of a bassline is more jarring compared to the clarity of the other instrumentation. There is no sonic saturation to the record— the sounds blend and accentuate one another, as opposed to single parts being domineering.
 
“Animals,” the record’s second track, begins percussively with bells and a kick-drum, eventually augmented with a driving distorted bass and organ pad that evoke a Muse-like quality thematically. The psychedelic quotient of the tune elevates as the abstraction of the lyrics washes over the track, and the ascendant quality of the melody creates an excellent sense of tension as the album is propelled forward.
 

If this sounds like I’m reviewing a wine-tasting, it’s really not far off. The sophistication of the record allows for a scrutiny of all the individual elements that comprise the whole, as all the sounds are allowed to breathe and truly inhabit their place in the mix. Each tune titillates on many levels.
 
Track three, “Our Whole Bodies,” calls to mind the Smashing Pumpkins, “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning,” with its introduction before it slowly slides into something more akin to a Sea Wolf composition. Chiming acoustic arpeggios flutter off the sampled backbeat while the rubbery bass buoys the airy vocals to the forefront of your attention. The elements blend so easily that you can actually forget how disparate they are compared to one another.
 
The album’s apex, both structurally and qualitatively (for me) are the light and folksy couplet of, “Black Water Cave Pt. 1,” and “… Pt. 2.” It is here that the group’s deliberate development of composition becomes most evident and is the most powerfully executed. The dynamic changes multiple times within the tracks themselves, as lightly finger-picked acoustic guitar and insistent vocals snowball with the addition of arrhythmic bass and percussion into an ever-escalating ethereal frenzy of runs and vocal harmonies. As the first song ends there is a complete tempo shift, with punctuating piano stabs building a striking chord with hammering percussion and muted acoustic strums.
 
The onset of Pt. 2 builds upon the apex of the previous piece with a churning pulse of guitar, bass and drums elevating the energy of the former track to heighten the theme in the refrain as a whole. The final frenetic crescendo feels like an explosive emotional expiation that releases the stored energy of all the preceding tracks in one primal scream.
 
DMS - 1Electronica, funk, jazz, flamenco, psychedelia… genres leaven this record like ingredients in good cooking, added at the precise moment in the composition to accent certain moods or heighten a narrative line. “Human Machine,” adopts a bit of an 80’s synth-pop feel, while, “Entracte,” evokes the feeling of free-form jazz. We’re met with a jocund march beat, wandering bass and jangling acoustic guitar that embodies a flamenco sensibility to the kinetic, meandering bass notes. “Kaleidoscope,” pulses with morphing samples and a mechanoid-wah that channels certain qualities of dubstep.
 
All this goes to say the diversity of this record presents a unique listening experience that few groups would be able to replicate.
 
If you’re looking for a diverse and dynamic listening experience from a group with serious songwriting skill, Draw Me Stories is certainly a band you’ll want to sample. The closest parallels that I can draw to the band would be Porcupine Tree or Birds of Tokyo, as the contrast of style from track to track (and even moment to moment in some instances) is so profound that they nearly defy definition. You would not be wholly off-base calling this progressive rock, but you’d certainly not miss the mark calling it folk-rock, trance or dance music either.
 
This is a group that helps engender a very unique dilemma for a listener, as the definition of their sound is uniquely subjective. You should listen for yourself and see what their music says to you.
 

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