Tiernan Banks has declared that the new deathcrash album is “more emo” than the last one and… wait a minute. The album with “Wrestle With Jimmy”? The album with a scintillating nine-minute odyssey that culminates with the lyric, “And if you die by suicide, my blue heaven / Then thank you just for telling me / And doing all you could”? But while the desperate emotional tenor has held strong since 2022 Return, deathcrash have largely removed everything else that resembled their previous work with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Slint, Codeine, Mogwai and many, many other titans of maximized minimalism: oversized songs, spoken word passages, eerie patches of silence pierced by dizzying distortion, multi-part suites, anything that stands between the public and Banks’ Wounded Words. As title, Less it is both promise and provocation, certainly for the listener, but more for the deathcrash themselves.
“Pirouette” opens in a convincing state of vulnerability, slowly exploring whether deathcrash is in an introductory jam or putting together a proper song. as they do throughout Less, Banks’s voice enters tentatively, tracing a melody as if trying to find a light switch in the dark. Over the next five minutes, “Pirouette” becomes an engaging intra-band gazing contest, operating at a much higher intensity and barely turning up the volume. In the past, someone would inevitably blink and stomp on the distortion pedal, a post-rock reflex to deliver the emotional charge. He finally makes it halfway through the next song, though, and even then, “Empty Heavy” stays true to his promise: it’s more hollow, throbbing pain than cathartic release.
While “less” is the modus operandi, “loss” is Banks’ muse; either because of the spare, virtually transparent arrangements, or the fact that it’s almost half an hour shorter than Return, it all underscores that something once present is now gone. “I play dead/You wake up/Don’t fake anything,” Banks sighs at the end of “Pirouette,” establishing the recurring theme of passing, of processing. Less he is haunted by a sinister vision of ghostly beings, the sleepy optimism of the early morning, or the muted reflection of a night that has not yet ended. The flash points that create loss—death, separation, tragedy—it all happens offscreen.
Less it is not the kind of music that is generally described as “warm”, implying that joy or sympathy are primary emotions capable of radiating. Rather, Banks’s worn and welcoming voice projects both loneliness and a desire for intimacy with subtle cues, like a barfly strategically holding an open seat over a beer in deep thought. Banks’s lyrics are sparse on detail (“I broke my promise,” “You left”), rejecting anything that would prevent a listener from occupying their own space within Less. Of Banks’s many descriptions of heartache, the chorus of “Distance Song” is the most evocative: “It doesn’t hurt/it just won’t stop bleeding,” he furiously says, though a lower chorus in the mix suggests a more desire. deep from just screaming, from fighting the constant drain of pain.