Remora has been around since 1996 bringing out post-apocalyptic pop songs to the masses. Dominated by often sole member Brian John Mitchell, Remora is often a sonic surprise – sometimes making walls of guitar noise & sometimes singing a capella while somehow maintaining the aesthetic that is Remora.
On The Heart That Kills, Remora drifts away from the sci-fi-survival themes often prevalent in the lyrics & instead deals with the emotional apocalypse of the death of a loved one. In 2008 Mitchell pulled his grandmother out of a nursing home & quit his job to take care of her at home doing everything from making her meals to bathing her, by her side more or less 24 hours a day. In October 2011 she had a fall that caused an inner cranial bleed & after a week in a coma with Mitchell lying on the bed next to her holding her hand she died. Recorded within the following month in Mitchell’s bedroom, The Heart That Kills is a direct response to the feelings of anger, remorse, guilt, joy, hope, despair, & loneliness associated with the death of a loved one.
Predominantly The Heart That Kills is a drone record. It clocks in around 72 minutes with all but three of those minutes using two guitars & two bass guitars feeding back as the only sounds. At times the feedback is a somewhat passive presence & at other times it is an aggressive one, rising & falling like hope between labored breaths. Clearly this is not something meant for everyone. The remaining three minutes are split four ways between two a capella tracks (“Live Forever” & “Let Me Carry Her Body Through The Gates”), a glockenspiel track (“Chimes”), & the only traditional song structure on the album (the half funeral dirge/half anthem “Bring You Back”). This is not a fun record, this is not the “post rock party show” that Mitchell toured with five years ago, but it is perhaps the most important record of Remora’s discography.
Foxy Digitalis / Steve Dewhurst
Remora’s last collection of songs, 2011′s Scars Bring Hope, was an unexpected but wholly enjoyable detour into the world of glum pop. Mostly casting aside the drone he had made his name in, Brian John Mitchell aired his vocal chords and revealed himself to have a fine baritone drawl. The album housed some stirring moments, not least ‘My Brother’s Guns and Knives‘, a surging ode to strength in the face of adversity that sounded like a long-lost Joy Division classic, but it ended with an extended fuzz-out that hinted Mitchell hadn’t forgotten where his bread was buttered just yet.
The unsettlingly earnest rendition of an insurance company jingle that appeared on YouTube earlier this year was Mitchell winking at us sideways. For all his doom and gloom, it seems, there’s a cunning dark humour somewhere underneath. Listening back to Scars Bring Hope, it was there all along. ‘Peanut Butter Cup’, a song I wrote off as quirky filler when I reviewed the album, has since emerged as a favourite. Recording so close to the ocean it sounds as though he’s in danger of being drowned, the wind and waves interfering with his equipment to chronic effect, Mitchell croons foul-mouthed lines to a potential beau like a lovelorn teenager struggling for the appropriate vocabulary. The outcome is disarmingly touching.
I like to think the same perversity was at play when he decided to present The Heart That Kills to Fluttery Records, a label that prides itself on unearthing experimental talent from far-flung places but has so far issued fairly bog-standard post-rock and surprisingly glossy, wide screen electronica. Made up of a series of mega-long, barely wavering drone pieces interspersed with tiny snatches of vocal meandering, The Heart That Kills is funny in its own way. Presented with the chance to exhibit his work to a relatively wide audience, Mitchell has offered up a stubborn, decidedly avant-garde collection that he must have known was going to piss people off or, at the very least, have them scratching their beards.
Beginning with ‘Live Forever’, a fourteen-second, two-line rhyme, the album quickly wavers into a steady electronic drone that lasts for over twenty minutes. As it progresses further, similarly sturdy tones enter the picture at slightly different pitches and Mitchell spends the entirety allowing them to weave around one another. Swell enough, you think, as ‘Bring You Back’ kicks in – all ninety seconds of it – and returns to Scars territory. Only, the ‘You’ in the title is apparently referring to the drone he was messing with and not a lost sweetheart. ‘Holding Her Tight’ is another long exercise in patience, developing out of an industrial churn into an even more stable hum than that in ‘Lack Of Response’. It’s at this point you begin to twig; he’s going to keep doing this, isn’t he…
Well, yes. ‘Holding Her Tight’ soon becomes ‘Please Just Leave Me Alone’. You can chuckle at his choice of title as it whirs on to the twenty-five minute mark and goes almost nowhere. Essentially the sound of feedback being stretched, shifted and layered, it glows occasionally and enters a long fade, like a David Lynch light bulb. Two short ditties – both as intentionally throwaway as each other – sandwich one long last sonic syringe. ‘Let Me Carry Her Body Through The Gates’ is the most substantial, being a dirge aimed heavenwards in a quasi-monastic timbre. ‘Chimes’, which closes the album after what is possibly the most static series of drones here (the eighteen minute ‘Hope’) is notable for its flippancy. It could be a telephone ringing for all Mitchell cares. “Thank you and goodnight,” he’s saying. “What did you expect?”
As a drone record it might not present anything you haven’t heard done before. There are proponents of the art form who, rightly or wrongly, will be held aloft as gods before Mitchell even gets a look. But as a bloody-minded refusal to bow to expectations The Heart That Kills is right up there with the best of them. Did Fluttery Records expect him to turn in another Scars Bring Hope? I kind of hope they did…
Austere, sad beauty fills ‘The Heart That Kills’. This consists of giant, brooding drone pieces with spoken, vocal interludes. Vocals appear to break up the dark atmosphere with traces of humanity. Otherwise these drones are heavy. Drone generally moves slowly but on here the evolution is barely perceivable.
Remora takes its time to build some of these pieces up. There are no break downs. Everything is very static. Occasionally the drones seem to focus in and out, becoming more and less intimate. No melodies exist anywhere on the album. A constant downcast mood lingers. Drone tends to linger in the dark recesses of sound. With these songs though that is idea is taken further. Shifts on ‘Lack of Response’ are extraordinarily unsettling. Upper registers on this track lead to a somewhat uneasy hovering above. It feels cold, mechanical and defeated. ‘Please Just Leave Me Alone’ is lonelier. Over the course of 24 minutes it barely registers a hint of a smile or hope. Everything on this track feels doomed. Even the length itself points to a feeling of dread. Patience pays off on this track as it slowly morphs.
There is no rhythm. Interludes remind the listener of the true meaning of these drone pieces. Drone has rarely been this heavily or downcast. Light cannot escape from these giant slabs of slow-moving sound. Rhythms ebb to and fro in the album. Nothing gets resolved by the head. ‘The Heart That Kills’ is a deeply personal, oftentimes gorgeous album.