Pelican delivers tight, heavy instrumental jams on immaculate fourth record

Vocals, and especially lyrics, are often the dicey part of the musical equation for heavy bands. It’s too easy to undermine sweet riffs with dumb lyrics or embarrassing vocals from a singer who thinks he’s Satan. Or Cookie Monster.

Pelican neatly circumvents the problem by avoiding vocals altogether. The Los Angeles-via-Chicago quartet remains determinedly instrumental on its fourth full-length album, “What We All Come to Need” (Southern Lord). It’s a huge, almost majestic record piled high with sludgy grooves and bristling guitars on eight instrumental songs.

Despite the deep bed of sludge here, Pelican is not, strictly speaking, a metal band. The moments of aggression or, occasionally, bombast, serve a larger purpose as the group creates a shifting panoply of musical textures.

Still, the riff is paramount on “What We All Come to Need.” Guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Schroeder-Lebec don’t just play riffs, they craft them, and with a fair amount of subtlety. Chiming arpeggions at the start of “Strung Up From the Sky” erupt at regular intervals into terse chugging, while the guitars on opener “Glimmer” ramp up smoothly like a high-performance automobile accelerating on a long straightaway.

Bassist Bryan Herweg holds down the riff in the middle of “Specks of Light” while de Brauw and Schroeder-Lebec layer it with spacey jangling guitar lines, and everyone comes together in a dense, melodic barrage on “An Inch Above the Sand.” At 4:15, it’s the shortest tune on the record, but that’s not a complaint: these songs unfold with a stately grandeur that is compelling regardless of length.

— Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by Marty Watson

Strung Up From The Sky mp3

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