Listening to White Whale, the third LP attributed to the enigmatic C. Diab, you may find yourself asking the most fundamental questions: How many people are in this band? What do they play? And what genre is this music even meant for? There is the tape-collage tinkering of “Haunter,” where a kind of warped Pink Floyd picking abuts an old field holler Alan Lomax might have captured. There is the meditative hymn “Cubensis Yellow Fire,” where an organ that flickers like a furnace’s pilot light supplies support to strings that expand and contract, a series of slow, steadying breaths after a scare. And then there’s the commanding opener “The Dark Years,” where the phosphorescent distortion and tidal harmonies of long tones suggest the majesty of Sigur Rós in their post-millennial glory. So, really, who and what is at play in this variegated chamber ensemble?
C. Diab is, turns out, only the abbreviation for Caton Diab, a Vancouver producer and multi-instrumentalist whose elaborate little set pieces are entirely self-made. For White Whale, a record inspired by civil unrest and the seemingly unattainable quest for sustainable social progress, Diab steps away somewhat from his past trumpet explorations and uses a bowed electric guitar to create scenes of absolute tension, a study in how redemption might sound.
Lunging, abrasive, and dramatic, with his bowed-and-struck guitars sounding more like an Elliot Carter quartet or the recent work of metal cellist Helen Money than a mere six strings, “Street Scenes” documents the people’s struggle for a voice in these oligarchic times. “Blasted by an Ill Planet” is an elegy for teetering ecosystems, as gorgeous as snow-capped mountains or an endless desert, but as bittersweet as watching the light fade behind them at twilight. White Whale taps our anxious and mournful times, but it’s galvanizing, too—not only in its post-rock heroics, but in its very concept. If one person can harness this kind of poignancy alone, imagine what a few million might do together.