In a post-rock field prone to excess, Gray Young trims the fat by cutting its cinematic grandeur into lean, hard-working miniatures. Firmament bursts out of the gate with "Provenance": Chas McKeown's chiming guitar and Jeff Dopko's attacking drums, heavy on cymbals and floor toms, lay an anticipatory foundation before bringing Dan Grinder's melodic bass in for a full-on assault.
It's a two-minute mission statement for the purposeful Raleigh trio, who only once break the 4:30 mark through Firmament's 13 taut tracks. The exception—the nearly six-minute title track—dramatically builds around a hypnotic riff for four, McKeown's wispy vocals wafting by in a dreamy haze as repetitive phrases lull the listener into a calm. Washes of furious guitar eventually cascade down over a torrent of snare and cymbal shots.
Gray Young mines similar build-and-release techniques throughout Firmament, but the band is wise to avoid the redundancy and pitfalls of relying on a singular trick for the disc's 47 minutes. "Ghost Note" doses the album with ambience, gentle guitar and whooshing noise serving as a palette cleanser. "Across the Loft" and "Tilling the Wind" are centered around heaps of guitar and percussive flash anchored by Grinder's bass, but they're more straightforward (though no less heroic) indie rock tunes, the emphasis now on McKeown's distant croons. The hollow "First Perennial Fall" almost ditches the rock instrumentation entirely, opting for dissonant guitar shimmer to accompany a circular piano line. Closer "Aurora" is another sparse duet, with atmospheric keys supporting the guitar's persistent melody.
Firmament deftly navigates pretentious waters to deliver an LP full of mini-epics that know their limits. Though it is Gray Young's first LP, it's one that you shouldn't be surprised to find in heavy local rotation soon.
Firmament is planned for a January 2009 release. Gray Young play Nighlight Friday, Dec. 19, with Blag'ard and Tin Star. Tickets are $5, and the show starts at 10 p.m.