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Great Black Night in concert

A reverb drenched rock band from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Listen to Lift Those Hands by Great Black Night.

*Album art by Ben Petersen, Pocketknife Prdn.

Grand Rapids shoegaze band Great Black Night has been active since 2014 and gained increased local attention following the Fall 2016 release of their second EP, Lift Those Hands. Thickly textured, reverb-washed and often distorted, the band is much in the vein of many of their genre’s progenitors, such as Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. Where GBN departs from their fairly clear aesthetic heritage, though, is in their lyrical content. While esoteric language and imagery have traditionally coalesced well with the sonic aspects of shoegaze, they focus instead upon more concrete narratives of hope. The brightness of the band’s message seemingly lies in conflict with their primarily dark and murky sonic palette. However, this juxtaposition allows for a more truthful representation of human experience, of reality: a mix of light and dark.

The title of the EP and those of the individual songs, with titles like “Do What You Were Born to Do,” hint that Great Black Night is up to something unusual for a band of their genre. From the get-go their content is not hidden or obscured and their message is consistently genuine and direct, relying little upon mystery or symbolism.

“Do What You Were Born to Do” opens with a blunt decrying of wallowing disillusionment, pointedly displaying the band’s out of the ordinary pairing of overtly positive messages with a musical style generally associated with too-cool disinterestedness and plenty of moody guitar-wallowing. The song’s opening lines:

“Let me give you the news

You’ve got nothing to lose

It’s time to get on the move

And do what you were born to do”

Neither this song nor the record as a whole pretends that the sources of disillusionment and existential sadness are not real, but hopefulness is pushed firmly as an alternative paradigm for viewing human experience:

“With all this time you waste

You could be living life”

The EP’s closer, “We’re All Beautiful,” continues the tenuous negotiation between light and dark, initially expressing a sense of unrequited longing, loneliness and regret:

“All we ever wanted

Was a stiff drink

And a dance with someone beautiful”

But this forlorn retrospective commentary is immediately met with a hopeful perspective-shift, focusing on the belonging and collective beauty of a present community instead of continuous reflections upon a dissatisfying past:

“Well, tonight,

We’re all beautiful

We don’t have to fear the night

Now, tonight,

We’re all beautiful”

The title track from Lift Those Hands might be the finest example of light-from-darkness, with a future-affirming anthem emerging halfway through a melancholy slow-burner. The song commands:

“Lift those hands up

You’ve gotta stand up

Materialize love

You are a treasure”

Clearly, the darknesses such as pain, self-doubt and lovelessness are recognized as realities. But, alternative realities of light—hope, freedom and materialized love—are offered in response to the recognition of darkness. Great Black Night does not seek to suppress or deny the full spectrum of real, lived experience, but rather, avoids a shallow sentimentalism by recognizing both the darkness and the light as real. Still, they do not mire in the darkness entirely but employ it as the contrast needed to put forth an honest and strong message of hope.

For Great Black Night, contrary to or perhaps in defiance of their name, the light creeps its way out of the swells of darkness.

—Daniel Hickey

September 2017
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