What is the lesson of the Tower of Babel? At first glance, the answer seems simple enough; as in many tales, god strikes down those who sin the sin of hubris. In attempting to reach the heavens and take the divine mantle for themselves, the proud people of Babel learned a lesson, the lesson of divine uniqueness and prestige. But there are further lessons to be learned from the Tower of Babel; the story also draws out attention to the hardships of loneliness and to the only tool which humans have to over come this most basic of our conditions, namely cooperation and empathy. Only in coming together do the architects of Babel even set out on their project, a project which was, essentially, a good one. In order to do that, they need a common tongue, a universal language with which they spoke, a language taken by god to make sure that no such collaboration is possible again.
And so, we find ourselves in this sorry state, fumbling around objects and their referents in a useless attempt at communication. But god forgot to take away one thing from us: he forgot to take music. Did he do that on purpose? We will never know but the fact remains that a tongue which cuts away at the barriers between us still exists and it is music. These ideas, of the tension between pride and failure, jubliance and downfall, language and misunderstanding, music and meaning, all run through Ranges‘ upcoming release, aptly titled Babel. Where previous albums (especially the last one, 2017’s The Ascensionist, channeled a kind of scintillating, grand echo of nature, belief, spirit, and hope, Babel is a more complex and subtle beast.
In ways, it is sparser; there’s a lot more ambiance and build up on it. “Revelation” for example spends most of its run-time moving through a guitar lead that dominates the front of the aural space. While various effects, further guitar chords, and drums take up the background and murmur to themselves, this main guitar line snags our attention, the end effect leaving us in a ruminating state. This atmosphere is also utilized elsewhere on the album, like on “Idolator”. Here, however, the drums play a much more dynamic role, pairing up with a groovier guitar line. The overall feeling is the same, of wonderment and contemplation, but the band aren’t afraid to hit the same spot from multiple approaches.
Speaking of “hitting the spot”, the other facet of Babel is the large, wonderful, expansive crescendos that we’ve come to expect from the band. On this album, the bass has been turned up even higher, resulting in thick, undulating power that pulsates beneath these climaxes and keeps them driving to their point. The aforementioned “Idolator” is a perfect example; after the meditative and ambient opening, it explodes into this marvelous summit (get it?) of guitars, backed by incandescent synths which remind us of Junius. Here too the band aren’t afraid to experiment with their approach to these larger moments. Other segments, like the fantastic heights of “Demagogue”, present a more Mono-infused sound, drowning out the background of the crescendo with lots of reverb which echoes out from the main chords.
That feeling of size coupled with moments of heart-wrenching ambiance echo both the cover and the subject matter of the album really well. Babel leaves you feeling in awe like previous albums from the band but it’s also possessed of this sort of darkness, a more contemplative and brooding energy than previous releases. The hope is still there, echoing out between the notes, but it is steeped in the kind of twisted dynamics which lie in waiting for us in the original story of Babel. It is an album very much about speaking to each other attempting, like all great pieces of music, to reach out to us and speak but what it has to say might not be the crooning message of triumph we wish it to be. At the end, isn’t the myth of Babel also about hidden meanings and the folly of attempted translation? Isn’t it also about how, in our greatest achievements, lies our downfall? Perhaps what we should take from it, more than anything, the need for us to remain open to our darker urges and understand the future as it comes. Babel channels all of those emotions marvelously into its run-time proving to us, once again, that few bands in post-rock possess the emotional dexterity of Ranges.