Formed in late 2007, Greenland consists of Chris Kardon on lead guitar, Ben Duguay on bass, Lee Stralman on keyboards and, last but not least, Travis McMullen on the drums. Kardon and Stralman originally met in high school in Waukesha, WI, and formed a short-lived duo called Kamikaze Helmet, which nonetheless gained a small amount of exposure in Milwaukee and Chicago. They later teamed up with the Canadian Duguay and McMullen while studying at Northwestern University. To date they've released one studio album (self-titled Greenland) in May 2009, and according to their website have a sophomore effort planned for mid-2010, though knowing these guys it may be closer to the Mayan apocalypse before it's finally realeased. Which would be appropriate for these guys, since post-apocalyptic, anarcho-primitivism seems to be a theme of theirs.
Greenland has a difficult sound to peg accurately. In a sense, one could almost classify them as an anti-Vampire Weekend, having a very heavy, raw, driving sound that promotes a back-to-nature sensibility, as intense as but rather different from genres like death metal or prog rock; math rock might be a closer approximation, but it's still far off the mark. Duguay plays a very active bass, and seems to dislike repetition, either of the single note variety or in general; he tailors his basslines to the layers played by keyboards and lead guitar; an excellent example of this is in the first track of Greenland, "Jack of all Spades", where he modifies his basslines slightly during each chorus to fit the mood, even though the choruses themselves are much the same.
Kardon and Stralman, quite predictably given their days playing together, almost always play as a duo; even during the guitar or keyboard solos, the other is laying down counterpoint in a subtle, almost unnoticeable way. Generally speaking, each will play a different, but similar melody at the same time, and often exchange or invert themes during the same song. It's difficult to convey in words, but it lends itself to a manic, unsettled sound, even though they tend to shy away from most power or barre chords. Stralman sticks to the classic overdriven Hammond B-3 sound, which provides a perfect counterpoint to Kardon's raw, amplified Stratocaster.
Behind the frenetic bass and melody lines is the steady drums of Travis McMullen, who seems hard done upon to even flourish the end of a bar with a cymbal strike. No matter how wild the instrumental section gets, McMullen will play almost the exact same drum pattern during the course of the entire song. At first listen, this technique seems boring, even uncreative, but one soon realizes that it provides an extremely steady, if plodding base to each song, and the combination of rhythmic, metronome-inspired drumming mixed with the wild melodies and basslines proves to be an intoxicating mix which really draws the ear, in my opinion. Think of a more modern Nick Mason.
Greenland: The Album
Note: I have received the band's permission, through email, to reproduce any and all lyrics here.
1. Jack of all Spades: In case there was any doubt as to Greenland's political leanings, they chose to make the first song of their first album a thirteen-minute paean to anarcho-primitivism (Derrick Jensen is given a few name-drops in the album liners), with a flourish of fantasy-based allegory for kicks. It starts with McMullen's steady drum lines, and slowly the bass, then keyboards, then finally lead guitar emerge from the mist. Kardon, with Stralman providing a steady b minor base, freely improvises four or five note bursts, often ending in downward modulation, while Duguay flies two octaves over the b minor scale. The first two and a half minutes build tension and develop the melodic themes, and finally, when they're good and ready, release the tension into the first chorus; here we hear the mellow, quiet voices of Kardon and Stralman for the first time.
Watch out, Jack
Can you stay on the right track
Through the forest
Watch out, Jack
The sun is sliding back
Below the horizon
(instrumental interlude again; chord shifts to e minor)
The frost has spread anew
With the fall of love and truth
In the empire.
Pick up your rusted sword,
The time has come for glory,
After that, it's back to a five-minute instrumental session, with the themes that have already been established flying and screeching over each other, and with the steady drums plodding away, in the background. Finally, and almost out of nowhere, a new verse emerges:
Long-nosed hawks make me shiver
They make mistakes which run the rivers
Red; eight years and a day
Since we've been prey
After this verse, a haunting interplay between guitar and keyboards emerges, and they slowly modulate downwards in a chromatic fashion (which is the best I can explain it). The chorus is repeated a few times, and finally, an explosion of guitar occurs. Out of the rubble comes the keyboards, playing a steady A Major, which provides the opening into a new song.
2. Leaves in Your Hair: This is the point where you realize, wow, these guys have listened to Pink Floyd stoned a little too much. Which, I admit, is entirely excusable - I myself have spent hundreds of hours grooving to Obscured by Clouds while being obscured by clouds of pot smoke. Here, they take the old Floydian tradition of having one song lead to another without breaks - one harsh, minor song leading to an optimistic one, to boot - but after building the soft, pleasant, inspiring A minor chord, launch into decidedly non-Floydian lyrics.
Early morning, dawn has broken
You raise your head to me
Leaves in your hair shine brown and ochre
No need for clocks today
First morning after the apocalypse maybe? Instrumental flourish now.
Eight am, who gives a fuck
We'll make our way today
Forsake our futures to earn a buck
We'll cross the field of May
Waiting for us now
Here is where the guitar solo becomes decidedly...minor in tone. Hints of chromatic malaise creep in, and although Stralman maintains a constant major chord, Kardon freely riffs in minor and seventh chords over top. Duguay plays an unusually repetitive bassline, and McMullen, well...plays the exact same fucking thing he's ever played. I'm starting to wonder now if his participation is genius, or plain fucking apathetic.
Waiting for us now
Guitar solo now.
Waiting for you now
What's that? Change in tense?
Waiting for youuuuuu....
3. Attawapiskat: The very title of this song implies we're Not in Kansas Anymore. Attawapiskat, which I learned upon reading the liner notes, is a Cree reservation in northern Ontario, past the treeline, so this star-struck couple has certainly passed the border, and is creeping now towards the Arctic Circle, one would imagine anyway.
The break between Leaves in Your Hair and Attawapiskat is a little more pronounced, but is still sustained by a keyboard chord, in the style of DSOTM. I'll say it here, before anyone else does - their influences are as plainly obvious as an anvil in the jugular. But sometimes, that works, and I won't begrudge Greenland that. I will, however, point it out every opportunity I get.
Here, the initial euphoria of being sentient beings liberated from the shackles of Western civilization fades a bit, and is replaced by morose, tentative verses. It starts with:
You can bank your gold,
And pray to Baby Jesus.
But I think I’ll retire from this world,
And worship the Seasons.
Fair enough. You're defeating the Rothschild/Knights Templar banking oligarchy which has survived lo these many centuries. But what about the repentant refugees?
Space-age polymers, tattered and worn
Huddled close to the skin
Awakened, weary, from cold tundra beneath
Where have they taken your kin
Peel yourself from the frostburned ground
Your flesh is gone at last
You're free to be, to live, aghast
Your daughters feel the whip, the shaft
Here starts a wailing of guitar, underlain by keyboard chords which move up and down a semitone as needed. Greenland won't elucidate, but I feel that they're describing a situation where the most gullible, combined with the most armed, meet, and the carnal impulses of man are laid bare free of legal interference.
But you can't see
You try to breathe
But you can't believe...
That you're a survivor
4. A Long Way From Russia: Well, in true instrumental form, the preceding three songs have occupied a full half hour of CD time, so it makes sense that Greenland would want to supply a fifteen-minute opus to round out their first album. They are nothing if not ambitious. Attawapiskat ends on a tenuous note, nothing more than the hollow sound of wind blowing about the barrens. Then, finally, Lee Stralman starts playing a major B chord. But what's that? A tiny bit of dissonance somewhere...almost as though he's making a mistake, but you know he's not. Kardon picks up the slack now, holding long sustained notes, and quickly moving up into falsetto range and back as though he were playing a Native American flute. Indeed, you realize after a couple minutes that the theme and melody here are remarkably similar to those melodies played by Natives immemorial, centuries if not millennia ago. You start to think, we are just interlopers on an ancient way of life, and ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Ward Churchill would probably cum all over this band, and I don't blame him. Their philosophy notwithstanding, I like their music, and it's fortuntate that their lyrics spice only a small percentage of each song. A Long Way from Russia starts pessimistic, and like A Jack of all Spades, builds into a minor-keyed crescendo, with falsetto, with the following lyrics:
Northwest Passage, fit for salts
My boots trek o'er barrens every day
Someday, Kamchatka will be in my sights
I will be led by horny John Galts.
(Dissonant, harsh guitar solo follows, impying our hero is choosing the least of many evils).
She ran, stark naked and terrified,
Down the concrete hall
Jackboots did follow, massive force applied
Dragged and violated, she willingly complied
Who will beat her captors, now or ever?
You in your Gore-tex summer fleece
You're gone and free, off to Asia
One life rounded, complete
Cut your losses, since you don't even have a gun. That's fair. But don't expect your family to share your fortune. This is a post-modern world, remember. Your family or your life?
The old highways, followed with glee
Waist-deep in crystal waves
Mountain peaks, conquered freely
Your wife, your daughter, or your life.
Here they juxtapose America the beautiful-style imagery with the harsh reality of post-apocalyptic life, and while I find this to be insufferably pretentious, it does have some effect, deep down inside. They like to reinforce their imagery with melody lines reminiscent of Native american flutes, maybe to ram the imagery down my throat. But I don't care. The music, negative and harsh as it is, fits the mood in so many different ways.
They end the album by merging with the dominant b-minor chord they started off with, and playing off into the sunset; free riffs and counterpoint playing on and on, while the volume is reduced to zero. At this point, I am either stoned, or in the process of procuring marijuana, so I guess in that sense you could call it stoner rock, but it is so much more. It's refreshing for a band to give the proverbial bird to their fans, record company and patrons by including only four songs in their debut album, none of them single-worthy, but in a sense, that's the Greenland aesthetic. When Kardon, who is the primary songwriter, was asked why he named the band Greenland, he said
Well, for me Greenland is, what, 85% covered in ice? Who KNOWS what's underneath the rest of it. I've seen pictures of the rest of it, and it's just these untouched, primitive dales, carved out by glaciers, unburdened by mankind at all. And this is kind of the feel I'm going for here, a place where you can get outside of all the bullshit spoon-fed to us by the media, and just be for a change, instead of worrying who we are.
As of 3/12/10, Greenland would like to play a full concert in the Qinnquadalen of Greenland (which has lush wild sumac and stunted trees), but have not, as yet, received the necessary permits to do so. The primary issue is that, with both Stratocaster and keyboards amplified, it might provoke an avalanche or rockslide, but Greenland, by the looks of it, has not and will not give up on this dream of theirs. I must admit, hearing their jagged counterpoint echoing off the walls of the ancient glacier-carved valley would be pretty damn cool. One wonders though if Echoes Live at Pompeii wasn't some sort of inspiration here.
As I said earlier, their sophomore effort is due sometime this year, but with Kardon being a notorious perfectionist, the odds of this happening is unlikely to remote. That said, even if anarcho-primitivism is not to your taste, I highly recommend you check our their first album, if only for the lush point-counterpoint they employ in their recordings. After the saccharine-sweet indie rock of the early 2000s, Greenland seems to be the perfect antidote of the new generation; sit back, light up a fat joint, and enjoy - you'll be glad you did.