La Dispute: Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair

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La Dispute 

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Aidan Williamson

07th November 2008
At 19:00 GMT

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Some people raise their heads to the sky and just see darkness with the odd smattering of luminaries. Other people take in the same view and see stories; tragedies, romance, love, heartbreak, loyalty, destiny and purpose. These are also the people who can make a bull outline from the Taurus constellation.

One unknown Chinese storyteller looked to the stratosphere one evening and saw two lights, separated by the gulf of the Milky Way and his mind began to wonder:

Niulang, a cow-herder happened across seven fairies bathing in a lake. Egged on by his anthropomorphic ox he plunders the garments of the fairies and hides himself. The fairies decide to send the most beautiful of their number, Zhinü, to retrieve the articles of clothing. She talks Niulang into returning the garments, but in doing so has exposed herself to him. Zhinü must now accept a proposal of marriage from the herder. They begin their life together and live happily together, with Zhinü giving birth to two children.

Sometime later though, Zhinü's mother discovers that her fairy-daughter has lowered herself to wed a mortal and is consumed by rage. She forces the young bride to return to the heavens. Devastated by the loss of his wife, young Niulang frantically searches for a way to be reunited with his beloved wife. Around this time, a somewhat self-sacrificing and similarly anthropomorphic cow informs Niulang that if he kills him and covers himself in his hide, he will be able to ascend to heaven and find his paramour. After skinning the cow, he covers himself and the couple's two children in the hide and makes the trip into the stars.

When Zhinü's matriarch discovers the human in her realm, she becomes increasingly irate. Determined to part the lovelorn pair she scratches a wide river in the sky, seemingly forever separating the two. Zhinü becomes the star Vega and Niulang becomes the star Altair. Forever cursed to stare at each other across the river of the Milky Way. Once a year though, all the Magpies take pity on the couple and build a bridge over the river, allowing the couple to spend just that one night together before being parted once more.

It's this surreal, almost mythical quality which La Dispute embody so well. Elevating their tales of love and heartbreak to the realm of the heavens. Making life bigger than all of us, a thought beyond our grasping. From the album title's play on the above situation, you can somewhat perceive that this Michigan band's tale does not end with the same heart-rending scenario of glimpses of time together. This one ends with the hero slipping from the structure which linked the two stars and instead filling his lungs with the misery before (likely) dying a tragic death, never able to make it across to his loved one.

The despondency is obvious from front-man Jordan Dreyer's performance. Slotting himself somewhere between the post-hardcore spoken verses of MeWithoutYou and the tortured chaos of screamo music. -- It is here we must take a short break, for so misappropriated has the genre 'screamo' been, that we would be remiss were we not to explain the audial connection. If when you hear the term you think 1905, City of Caterpillar, Saetia, Toru Okada, Circle Takes the Square, Envy, La Quiete, Yaphett Kotto, Funeral Diner, Pyramids (PA), Men As Trees, Gantz and On the Might of Princes then you are very much in the right area. If even the glimpse of Bring Me the Horizon or The Used fills your mind; you are very, very wrong. Please go educate yourself and return later to finish this article. -- Whereas the majority of bands tempered the vocal-chord pummeling screams with delicately sung vocals, La Dispute fixate entirely on this style. To all but the most most ardent advocates of hardcore-punk and screamo this will initially appear to be something of a one-note performance from Dreyer. Over fifty minutes, and with little variation, were it not for the intriguing narrative, it would perhaps, be too much to endure.

The effect of the impassioned vocals is rarely more apparent than when coupled with almost ballad-esque guitar leanings. On first (and arguably the mirroring finale) track Such Small Hands the narrator recalls "I think I saw you in my sleep, darling. I think I saw you in my dreams, you were stitching up the seams on every broken promise that your body couldn't keep; I think I saw you in my sleep." as the sparklingly clear and purified guitars gather melodic intensity. Fall Down, Never Get Back Up Again similarly echoes this feeling as the shimmering quality of the musicality plays contentedly within the backdrop as the half-screams - quivering with every syllable - gestate the very boundaries of human emotion.

While there is arguably little in the way of variety throughout the thirteen tracks, each plays like its own chapter in a larger novel; tying in themes and thoughts between songs until a bigger picture is formed. This is undoubtedly a lyrical album, eager to expose its delights to the attentive listener, willing to take in, analyse and meditate upon each and every word. For those who are willing and able, the rewards will be great, the heart-break will be crushing and music will be a revelation.

Rating:  8 / 10

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