Casting Deep Meteo

Grails Scores the Theater of the Mind

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #169. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Wide but shallow.


Listening to the new Grails album Anches en Maat, my head echoes the word “cinematic” but my heart wonders if that’s a compliment, a cliche or a curse. Possibly all three.

It’s the first and perhaps easiest impulse, and through several listens I’ve tried to divest from the framing, but I’m uncertain of that instinct as well. Grails is a long-running force in instrumental music, post-rock adjacent along the lines of Mogwai or Do Make Say Think, but with this album drawing in the likes of The Budos Band and The Black Heart Procession and music that doesn’t require sheets or equations. Songs that build, repeat, breakdown, hit crescendos, going on a journey, but this time for Grails the toybox is flung open. Everything except wordy vocals is fair game, from strings and synths and percussion of every flavor from electric to acoustic.

The cover art for Grails' Anches en Maat, featuring a woman's face made up from a collage of other photographs.

So, orchestral in a lot of ways, which is again often the remit of a cinematic soundtrack. Not lesser music in any way, but part of the larger creative ecosystem of a film. Anches en Maat does not accompany a film though, so unlike scores, it needn’t feel incomplete without the visuals. Again, my foot inches towards the trap though, as I do not necessarily believe film scores only work in conjunction with the films they’re tied to, a position impossible to defend. As such it’s settled; despite the entangled genesis of most cinematic music, the work itself is often clearly as moving if not moreso when cut from the knot of its film. It tells a story regardless, or at least many of the best ones do, as all music does, and Anches en Maat accomplishes this with grace from track to track.

Without poster or plot, Grails creates music that thrusts forward. More than curtains cut for mood or ambience, Anches en Maat begs the listener to simmer in their own headspace for a while, whether it’s an act of warm reminiscence or inspirational mosey. In my own listen I hear Curtis Mayfield’s soundtracks through chirping upstrokes and probing horns, but also keyboards that delightfully remind me of the Chrono Trigger score, an admittedly personal seed of nostalgia. “Sisters in Bilitis” builds out a heist scene, and then later “Evening Song” has me under tungsten streetlights in a dry-air contemplative drive. And the twelve minute closer brings it all together, yarn-strung from beat to beat, emotional and rhythmic. There are swells of jazzy noir, eddies of wandering bass, and then a slowly receding tide that sits like corpse pose. An album that has spent all it has to spend, not in the service of maximalism, but execution. A plan that has come together, even the moments of surprise, and never in disarray.

Grails has spent their entire career whittling away at these sounds and vibes and has succeeded from multiple directions. But this backend resurrection evolves past their already impressive catalog without compromising on their instrumental vision. Where so much of this type of music is content to unspool in the comfort of drawn notes, Anches en Maat is keener to play through dub, tripling down on tectonic shifts but making each second count in between as well. There’s no fat to trim, no deleted scenes, no sound that can’t be considered vital to the entire edit.


Levi Rubeck is a critic and poet currently living in the Boston area. Check his links at


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