Do Make Say Think — Persistent Stubborn Illusions

Here’s the thing, dear reader. Let’s say you had a friend that, for a long time, you’ve been fond of but never thought of in any serious romantic capacity. Then one day you have a magical experience where, seemingly by luck, your friend happens to be there. And the way you look at your friend is transformed. Suddenly the traits you have always liked take on new levels of meaning; suddenly there’s romance where there was only admiration before. Do you go back through your memory and ask yourself if it was always there and you were an idiot who wasn’t paying close attention? Do you wonder if you, or the person, have changed so substantially that now this new romance is unfurling? Or do you chalk it up to circumstance, to needing the right time and place in order to have that attraction?

This is where I’m at with Do Make Say Think right now. I’ve always known they existed, of course, and on paper they sound like a band I would love: instrumental music often labelled as “post rock”, a Toronto-based band, complex guitar parts. I know the covers of their records by sight and their music has been played at a million houses where I hung out. They even had Tamara Williamson, a musician whom I loved at the time, do guest vocals on a track. But for whatever reason, Do Make Say Think never clicked for me. Compared to their label-mates Godspeed You! Black Emperor, DMST was harder to emotionally unpack, more contemplative and adult in its designs. So while I’d never ask anyone to turn them off, and there are even songs I’ve quite enjoyed over the years, it’s never been music that charmed and wooed me.

Cue the magical experience. I just spent the better part of a week in Toronto, watching dear friends get married, going to literary events, eating great food and drinking great beer, and, best of all, talking for hours with people who found me interesting and wanted to hear what I had to say. It was the first time since I left Toronto in 2009 that I could truly appreciate the city without also pining to live in it. I loved it for what it was, and cherished the people in it, they cherished me in return. It was bittersweet to return to Vancouver, but more than anything else, I felt grateful.

And in the midst of this magical experience, a friend said to me, “Oh, Do Make Say Think has a new record.” And sitting in their living room, morning light filtering in, the band finally clicked.

I can’t speak for their old records, because currently I’m questioning everything I thought I knew about the band. But Stubborn Persistent Illusions is, more than any word I can think of, dazzling. It dizzies you with interweaving guitar parts that dance around the sound space, with busy drums that push and pull the mood of the music as much as any melody, with a superb recording that manages to balance live performance against studio tricks (like changing the auditory space where instruments are located, or even the type of instruments themselves). Musically, the songs take their time and manage to rise and fall without ever relying on the old post-rock habit of becoming one long crescendo. Stubborn Persistent Illusions is a good example of how to balance major-key movements against wistful minor chords. Part of it is my circumstance, part of it is the music itself, and part of it is the song titles, but altogether I get the impression this is a record about romance. But there’s also something patient and dense and wise to it all, and with each listen I’m finding new elements to pay attention to.

So what’s different? Did I change? Did the band change? Was it just a matter of circumstance, never hearing their music in the perfect context? Or is this new record their best work to date? I have no idea. But I’m enjoying DMST immensely right now, and that’s more important than understanding why now and not before.

Stubborn Persistent Illusions is impressively performed, immaculately recorded, and blissfully evocative. It’s the kind of record that makes me want to go back and listen to all their previous work. Please give it a whirl.

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