Ef is probably the best post-rock band you’ve never heard. All right, now you’ve just got to read the rest of the review, right? What a killer opening! I could go into a cute little anecdote about how you actually drafted Chris Shelton in your fantasy baseball league and how he destroyed everything in sight and how he is the best sleeper pick of all-time and…whatever. With that being said, this album will end up being one of the best this year, and will fly way under the radar as well.
Give Me Beauty…Or Give Me Death! is pretty much everything awesome about the genre, rolled up into a concise and nearly perfect 55-minute record. The best way to describe a post-rock band is to compare them to other post-rock bands, and Ef have control over the beauty of Explosions in the Sky, the movement of This Will Destroy You (whose EP Young Mountain holds the title of “Best album of 2005 that I didn’t hear until 2006”), and the climaxes of Mogwai. And, unlike many post-rock bands, they use vocals, albeit sparingly; however, it is pulled off especially well, never overused, timed perfectly to keep songs moving along as opposed to droning most uninterestingly as some post-rock bands seem to do. In fact, these seven Swedes have created the most well-paced and exciting post-rock record since The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place.
If post-rock turns you off due to an all-too-typical structure (soft, boring five-minute intro into a two-minute loud part for eight songs and over an hour -- yeah, I know some of you see it that way), then Give Me Beauty…Or Give Me Death! will be a blast of fresh air for you. Each of the six tracks has its own identity, and the track length is varied as well, which mixes things up a bit and offers up some of the tracks as segues between the more epic, lengthier pieces (not throwaways, mind you!). Ef incorporates some organ in their music, some strings, and some melodica (sort of like a harmonica, but not) which keeps things interesting, but not enough so that the music becomes too much; it’s still a very subtle, beautiful disc.
The obvious standouts here are the lengthier tracks, such as the 13-minute “Hello Scotland” which boasts a fantastic climax and, just when you think it’s over, busts into the same great part once more. The vocals sound a bit awkward at first, especially with contrasting male and female voices, but it soon becomes almost another instrument in the grand scheme of things; that’s how subtle it is. “Final Touch / Hidden Agenda” shows a darker side of the band, with a more aggressive tone and more distortion, followed by “He Came, He Stayed, He Fell,” a four-minute piece complete with xylophone, more melodica, and electronic drums, sounding a bit like Eluvium in the process. “Tomorrow My Friend…” is another behemoth of a song at nearly 15 minutes, characterized by the cheesy, melodramatic spoken word piece smack dab in the middle by a female member of the group. It reads like something out of a bad Hawthorne Heights song, and disrupts the flow of the song…at first. Upon listening to the whole track, it appears that the spoken part actually served a purpose: It distinguishes between the two movements of the song, from happy to sad, light to dark, as the song transforms into a truly jarring movement with a gigantic wall of cymbals and distortion taking shape -- it’s as close to punk rock as post-rock can come, and when you listen to how upbeat and rocking the latter half of the song is, you’ll see what I mean.
Give Me Beauty… comes full-circle with “We’ll Meet in the End,” which takes the xylophone hook from two tracks earlier and puts it in front of live drums and a faster pace, which ends the album on a great note, as it gets louder, and louder, and louder still, and then…silence.
Ef released the sleeper hit of 2006. If you love post-rock, or music in general, you should give this a whirl. It’s not just background music; there’s more than enough here to launch Give Me Beauty…Or Give Me Death! right into the foreground.