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When they started making burly, progressive sludge almost 10 years ago, Baroness weren’t teenagers: They were grown men with a refined, nuanced approach to heavy metal. Even in 2003, it wasn’t your typical Southern sludge swamp. That said, I doubt anyone listening then could’ve predicted Yellow & Green. The quartet’s new 18-song, 75-minute double album offers a broad, rich expanse of pretty, psychedelic, occasionally heavy, mostly straight-up rock that veers easily into pop, post-rock, and lulling ambient washes.
Frontman John Baizley stressed that, although it’s a double LP, Yellow & Green is not a concept record. That said, one theme certainly leaps out: that of aging, and the ways it changes our ideas surrounding music from one stage of adulthood to the next. Albums that force artists to go deep into themselves as people and as musicians tend to end up as accidental concept records, collections that document the time they pushed themselves to create, and the life they were otherwise living at that time. But this one feels very closely aligned to getting closer to 40, to feeling your bones creak a little more, your eyes getting a little weaker.
It’s in the lyrics with words that fixate on disappearances, fractures, sleep, bruises, bracing for death, failing hearts, and saying goodnight to your father. Or there’s the nostalgia of a line like, “when we were kids we never felt so young, take me to a hazy Sunday morning.” Then again, we also get plenty of blood (“this apple makes me sick, says this pig upon the stick, it’s my own blood”) and water, as both baptism and drowning, or beginning and end. (A track like “March to the Sea” has water in its title, but there’s something about its musicality that brings to mind early-1990s post-rock, too, and that post-Slint, June of 44-style obsession with anchors and sails.)
Baizley said the cover art, and the songs themselves, reflect the feeling of the moment before or after a disaster; of course, these are very different feelings, but I know what he means. It’s not all waiting around and recovering. There’s pure climactic catharsis, as you’d expect from Baroness, but these tracks work in a way Baroness songs haven’t previously. Instead of explosions, billows, and howls, we get a more meditative air, even on some of the bigger rockers like “Take My Bones Away” or the rollicking “Board Up the House”. Each mountain is chased with something a littler gentler. It’s thrilling hearing people this technically adept holding back a little, showing restraint, and cramming what they know into a pop nugget. — Pitchfork