Do Make Say Think: Stubborn Persistent Illusions
Constellation Records

Even though it's not uncommon for extended gaps to separate a band's releases, I'm probably not the only one who thought we might never see another set of new Do Make Say Think material, considering that its last collection, Other Truths, appeared in 2009. Yet here we are eight years later presented with a new album that's as strong as anything else the band has issued during its decades-long tenure. A special kind of alchemy arises when certain musicians get together; it's probably safe to say that nothing else Ohad Benchetrit, David Mitchell, James Payment, Justin Small, and Charles Spearin do rivals what they create collectively as Do Make Say Think; like Cakewalk and Causa Sui, something magical automatically happens the moment the Torontonians start playing. They've certainly been at it a long time, coming together in 1995-96 and self-releasing a year later their self-titled debut. Even its earliest albums show the group deftly integrating rock, jazz, punk, electronica, and dub into an instrumental brew that very quickly marked itself as the work of Do Make Say Think and no one else.

Work on Stubborn Persistent Illusions was jumpstarted by 2012 European concert appearances celebrating Constellation's fifteenth anniversary and subsequent writing and recording sessions that extended through 2014 and 2016. Among the album credits is a detail that says much about the production process involved in creating the new release: “All this was glued together, cut up and glued back together, fought over, hugged, cried, and laughed over, hotly debated, overdubbed and underdubbed, to near extinction, mixed and pre-mastered by Ohad, Charles, and Justin at Th'Schvitz in Toronto from spring 2014 to fall 2016.” But while Stubborn Persistent Illusions might have undergone a difficult and lengthy gestation before arriving into the world, the results sound anything but laboured. On the contrary, the material packs the most visceral of punches and gives the impression of having been laid down live in the studio. It's probably more likely that bits and pieces of in-studio jams were methodically stitched into compositional form without losing the live feel in the process.

Par for the Do Make Say Think course, instrumentation isn't listed for the band members, though it is for guests Julie Penner (violin), Mike Barth (trumpet), Leon Kingstone (baritone sax), and Adam Marvy (trumpet). Suffice it to say, the presentation is panoramic, and the evidence suggests that the two-drummer attack featured on earlier releases has again been utilized. Though prominent, guitar is but one element of many, with instruments selected to serve the arrangement in question rather than individual egos. Things definitely get loud on occasion (e.g., the powerhouse closer “Return, Return Again”), but such moments are balanced by quieter ones, the largely languorous “A Murder of Thoughts” a case in point. It's not uncommon for extreme shifts in mood and dynamics to occur within the same piece; “Her Eyes on the Horizon,” for instance, transitions from a gently lilting, chamber-styled first half heavy on horns, strings, and woodwinds to an uproarious second.

Though elements of krautrock, folk, psychedelia, and prog surface over the course of the album, it's best to label Do Make Say Think a post-genre or instrumental rock band. It's an outfit whose members long ago absorbed any number of bands' discographies, Faust and Can one imagines among them, but so completely that no sign of overt influence emerges. No one track of the nine overshadows the others; it's more the case that a cumulative impression of the album forms. That's not to suggest that memorable moments don't appear, as many do, whether it be the full-throttle shredding of the dynamic throat-clearer “War on Torpor” or the dizzying rhythmic parabolas of “Horripilation.” Still, there's no denying the impact of “Bound,” especially when its gradual escalation explodes in a declamatory, twenty-five-note figure that one expects would be unleashed with crushing intensity live.

Do Make Say Think has wisely kept a low profile throughout its twenty-plus-year existence; even the group's biggest fans would probably have a difficult time identifying its members by photo, let alone name. But in contrast to a group like Tortoise, whose commercial and critical success with 1996's Millions Now Living Will Never Die burdened the band with immense, near-paralyzing pressure when the time came to craft a follow-up, Do Make Say Think has never had to deal with anything remotely similar. The band members come together, work on material, eventually release it, tour in support, and then return to their regular lives, families, and individual projects, content and secure in the knowledge that at some future date they'll reassemble and do it all over again.

May 2017