One can safely assume that any band that names itself after the main character in Franz Kafka's “The Metamorphosis” is going to be interesting, to say the least. It would not be safe to assume, however, that the music made by Gregor Samsa feels as overwhelmed and ugly as Kafka's evolving man-creature. On the contrary, their creation is a precise tranquil poetry, twinkling and shivering like streetlights on snow.
With eight current members and thirteen past contributors, this mega-group from Richmond, Virginia is bursting at the seams with folks ready to make a joyful noise. Although main man Champ Bennett sounds more like the mustachioed villain from a schlocky 1970s sports movie than the front man of an ethereal slowcore band, it is the group's combination of supple male and female harmonies (courtesy of Bennett and Nikki King), as well as the slow-and-steady snail's pace of their songs, that has led critics to compare Gregor Samsa to perennial indie favorites Low. Plus, how can anyone resist a band so nerdy-clever that they would name their 2003 release 27:36 and their 2006 album 55:12? I know I can't. For the mathematically-challenged who might not appreciate the humor, the title of the 2006 album is exactly twice as long time-wise as that of the 2003 album. A watered-down, but still charming, form of this clever humor is at work on this collection's third track, the pure lulling “Three.”
Multi-cultural references don't stop with the group name. The first track, “Ain Leuh,” is the name of a Moroccan village, while “Jeroen Van Aken” is titled after also the birth name of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. It is also the longest track on Over Air, clocking in at just over nine minutes. Despite the length and the group's naturally rested pace, the song never feels that long. It's a personal favorite, thanks to both the art reference and to the chorus: “It seems the Devil's got a grip on me.” This seems oddly appropriate, given Bosch's infatuation with religious themes in his paintings. An alternative mix of “Du Meine Leise (that's “you, my gentle one” in German) is a questioning love song supported by a grinding undercurrent that seems menacing at first, but somehow manages to become uplifting.
Over Air was recorded in May 2008 for Dutch broadcasting organization VPRO and while a limited edition release (I received #340 out of 1500), it serves as a good introduction to Gregor Samsa's blend of classical styling and gentle ambient electronica. Six out of nine audio tracks were previously released on other recordings; most of them were culled from their 2007 album Rest, while “Young And Old”—the only song on Over Air with a crescendo—first appeared in 2006 on 55:12.
My only complaint about the album stems from technical problems. Over Air is an enhanced disc, but I found myself unable to access the video features on the copy I received.